The new South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner was responding to fresh evidence that warnings about underage grooming were ignored
The Rotherham grooming scandal was ignored because police treated young girls as “prostitutes” rather than victims, a police chief has said.
Dr Alan Billings, the new Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire Police, said “it all went wrong” because the force did not understand what grooming was or that it was child abuse.
Dr Billings was commenting on fresh evidence that police and council authorities knew the wider Sheffield area had a “very entrenched sexual exploitation problem” almost a decade ago but ignored the warning.
Reports by drugs analyst Dr Angie Heal from 2003 and 2006 have been made public for the first time following a Freedom of Information request by the Sheffield Star.
They reveal how she provided senior officers in South Yorkshire Police with names of suspected offenders but claims nothing was done.
Dr Heal said at one point, an officer admitted that although sexual grooming was “awful” but the force’s priority was burglary and car crime.
Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, newly-elected PCC Dr Billings said the problem was ignored because child sexual exploitation was not understood at the time.
“The police were certainly prioritising other things, burglary and car theft,” he said.
“Partly because the public were demanding that.
“But I think the other thing is that it’s a cultural issue. And I think the cultural issue spreads beyond South Yorkshire Police at that time.
“I don’t think any of us at that time understood what grooming was and that this was grooming.
“I think we saw these girls as not as victims, but as troublesome people out of control and willing participants.
“We saw it as child prostitution rather than child abuse and I think that was widely accepted and that’s why it all went wrong
A report by Professor Alexis Jay provoked nationwide shock last August when it revealed that at least 1,400 children were raped, trafficked and groomed in Rotherham.
A further review by Louise Casey, published earlier this year, led to the mass resignation of the ruling Labour cabinet and Communities Secretary Eric Pickles ordered Government-appointed commissioners to take over the running of the council.