|Police station in Rotherham town centre, Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian|
Lawyer David Greenwood says the police ‘are putting up stiff resistance’ to releasing the files.
Lisa O'Carroll and Josh Halliday
Victims of child sexual abuse in Rotherham are set to take South Yorkshire police to court to force them to hand over confidential records on how they handled decades of abuse in the town.
A Sheffield lawyer, acting for 65 victims, has said he has no other choice as the force is refusing to disclose data, call logs and other documentation that could establish if allegations that officers turned a blind eye to grooming in the town were true.
David Greenwood believes if he can prove this is so, the girls, now women in their 30s and 40s, will have a case under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act, which protects against torture but also “inhuman or degrading treatment”.
But he says the police “are putting up stiff resistance” and he plans to go to court to seek an order from a judge forcing them to hand over all their files.
Of course they are, they need time to make the files disappear in the night.
His action comes as four men and two women face sentencing on Friday for a catalogue of crimes including rape, indecent assault, forced prostitution and forced imprisonment over 16 years.
Brothers Arshid, Basharat and Bannaras Hussain, who together were guilty of 48 offences, are expected to get lengthy jail sentences. Also being sentenced in Sheffield are their uncle Qurban Ali and associates Karen MacGregor and Shelley Davies.
The Hussains carried out their brutal crimes with impunity, with one victim telling the jury she felt they were invincible because they “owned” Rotherham.
Several of the 12 women who gave evidence at the trial said they reported their abuse to police in the 1990s and the 2000s but no action was taken.
Now that justice in the courts has been done, they are hoping for compensation to help fund counselling and other support they may need in years to come.
Greenwood said police were refusing to hand over the files on the grounds that if the victims saw the records, their witness accounts in potential future criminal trials could be contaminated.
Contaminated with what? You didn't do anything!
Initially he met with the same resistance from Rotherham metropolitan borough council, which the victims are also planning to sue over alleged negligence.
The council has now conceded that it is safe to make the disclosures after Greenwood gave a legal undertaking that the documents would not be shared with the victims, but used to establish if there was evidence for civil proceedings.
“The police are putting up stiff resistance,” said Greenwood. “The police and the CPS don’t like it. I have offered them the same undertaking as the council and they are still saying ‘no’.”
He plans to make an application for pre-action disclosure in the next two weeks.
Detailed information about suspected child abusers in Rotherham was passed to police more than a decade ago – but never acted on, a whistleblower has claimed.
Adele Gladman last year described how her evidence was ignored by Rotherham council and South Yorkshire police after she provided them with information about suspected abusers.
In evidence to the home affairs select committee, originally given anonymously, she said she had raised concerns with police as far back as 2001 that children were “actively being placed at risk by social care and the police because of a lack of action against suspected abusers and a lack of support and understanding of the issues for the children concerned”.
She said her concerns were repeatedly dismissed by police as anecdotal and when she submitted her report to South Yorkshire police, the feedback she got was that it was unhelpful.
Recognising their past trauma, Greenwood has urged victims of historic abuse not to rush forward to join action for compensation.
“The difficulty for the girls is trusting anyone in authority. Getting details from them is off-the-scale difficult. They could be entitled to compensation but if it’s too distressing for them, I would urge women to be careful and not to come forward until they are ready and they have support.”
His action comes as Prof Alexis Jay, the author of the devastating 2014 report into abuse in the town, said Rotherham authorities “disbelieved” the scale of criminality in the town.
“For many in a position to do something, the exploitation of these children and young people was simply not considered a priority,” she told the Guardian.
“The people in the council who managed these homes should have taken a far more direct role in assisting the residential staff to take action to deal with it, along with the police.”
Jay, who has been appointed a member of the panel in the Goddard inquiry into child sexual exploitation, said she was concerned that grooming had effectively gone underground because it was now perpetrated online.
“A worrying aspect of exploitation has been the more recent one of internet grooming, which was emerging latterly in Rotherham as it was elsewhere in the UK,” she said.
She has called for better education about exploitation in schools.
“The young people I spoke to in Rotherham were scathing about the sex education they received, which didn’t cover a range of concerns they had about their sexuality, and had mainly focussed on preventing teenage pregnancy.”
One of the victims of the Rotherham gang being sentenced on Friday has also urged David Cameron to introduce education about age-appropriate relationships into schools.
Jessica (not her real name), who was abused by the mastermind in the Rotherham gang, Arshid Hussain, is among those planning to sue the police and Rotherham council for compensation over a lost childhood.
It was revealed on Wednesday that the Independent Police Complaints Commission was investigating 54 named officers as part of a major inquiry into allegations about how South Yorkshire police dealt with child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
Allegations made by 41 complainants range from a failure to act on reported child abuse to corruption.