By SIOFRA BRENNAN FOR MAILONLINE
It is a scandal that sent shockwaves across the UK. Cases of mainly white girls – some as young as 10 – being groomed, raped, forced into prostitution, beaten and even killed, by gangs of older Asian men.
These horrendous crimes were told by the vulnerable victims to Rotherham youth worker Jayne Senior on an almost daily basis for 20 years.
They were desperate pleas for help that fell on deaf ears for nearly two decades when the 51-year-old reported them to the local police, to the council, and to social services, all of which failed to believe what Senior was telling them.
Senior, a mother of three, has now written a book called Broken And Betrayed, revealing how she became the whistleblower who risked imprisonment to provide evidence to bring these cases to court.
Senior's first ever referral was a girl of 14 who was in a 'relationship' with a man in his 30s. She quickly became privy to horrific incidents of abuse perpetrated against vulnerable young girls
It’s a decision which sparked an investigation by the Home Affairs select committee, which has identified that since the 1990s, up to 1,400 young girls in the South Yorkshire town have been regularly abused by paedophile gangs, predominately made up of older men from Pakistani descent.
And in February this year, Arshid Hussain, 36, the ringleader of a gang who groomed, raped and abused teenage girls in Rotherham was jailed for 35 years.
Arshid's brothers Basharat Hussain, 39, and Bannaras Hussain, 36, got 25 years and 19 years respectively.
Many of the 15 victims of the Hussain brothers sat in the public gallery overlooking court six at Sheffield Crown Court holding hands as Judge Sarah Wright read out the sentences - to which Senior's cries of 'yes!' rang out across the court.
Arshid Hussain, 36, (left) the ringleader of a gang who groomed, raped and abused teenage girls in Rotherham was jailed for 35 years in February this year. Arshid's brothers Basharat Hussain, 39, (centre) and Bannaras Hussain, 36, (right) got 25 years and 19 years respectivel
Senior's significant work in the years leading up to finally bringing some of the perpetrators to justice is documented in her book, which has been tipped to become a film; with Senior now dubbed 'the Erin Brockovich of Rotherham'.
It all began in 1999, when Senior - bored with being a stay-at-home mother - took a job as a youth worker with Risky Business, a local project set up by Rotherham council to work with young women and girls who were in danger of being sexually exploited on the streets.
Her first referral was a girl called Alison who was kept disappearing from her care home and was involved with an older man of Pakistani heritage from Sheffield. He had groomed her and was pimping her to other abusers.
However, Senior describes in her book how it took the vulnerable girl a long time to realise there was anything wrong going on.
Senior reveals: ‘But he’s a really nice bloke!’ she said as I tried to point out that men of 30 don’t usually have 14-year-old "girlfriends".
'She told me: "He’s got a sports car and he takes me out in it, and we go out for meals and everyone’s dead jealous of me".
'"What about the other stuff?" I said. "You know, when he makes you do things that aren’t nice? And when he makes you see his friends?"
'"Yeah but that’s my choice. Honestly, I’m fine wi’ it".’
Senior explains that she had no idea of the extent of grooming that was going on in her home town.
'I wasn't aware of any of this,' she said. 'When you go back to that very first referral, when I first started I had a blank paper and a title of a project.
'But from the first referral and the number of other girls it became apparent that this was bigger than we could ever have thought it was.'
Senior visited one 14-year-old girl in hospital. She had been beaten unconscious with a claw hammer by her pimp - whose aim was to give her a termination after she had told him she had fallen pregnant by an unknown punter.
|In 2004 Senior did a law degree in the hope of being |
able to better argue for the police to take action
They were all threatened - told they would be murdered, or their mothers raped, if they complained.
However, Senior reveals that when these cases made it to court, the girls would be portrayed as 'child prostitutes' - and the men would usually walk free.
Senior says: '"Child prostitution" is a term I hate because it implies that a choice is being made by the child themselves.
'If you talk about a raped child or a gang raped child or an abused child we might have got a different attitude from the authorities.'
Risky Business held monthly meetings with senior council managers and police officers where they shared information about the girls, plus intelligence about pimps, punters and abusers that had been passed them.
But Senior recalls that right from the start the police seemed were unwilling to do anything with the shocking information they were being given.
'In my naivety I thought that when we gave that information, they would go out and investigate and start doing some arrests,' she said.
'They would ask for more and we would get it. If we can't get them for this we will get them for something else like drugs.
'The goalposts were constantly moving. There was an attitude that the girls were "up for it". They were consenting. They were lying.
'I was gutted. One thing that I always say is that kids are fibbers. But I will never believe a child can describe in graphic detail these horrific things that happened to them and be lying.
|Senior meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron. |
The campaigner wants education about grooming to be mandatory in schools
'We always believed them, and luckily the world now believes them. I just can't understand why other people would ever have said it was a lie.
'A lot of the girls were angry and didn't come across as typical "victims". Behind every angry child was a frightened one saying: "Help me, please make this stop".'
In addition to disbelieving the victims' accounts, Senior tells how the police were also uncomfortable about any mention of the ethnicity of the perpetrators.
Senior said: 'We were told that passing on such information "violated the human rights" of those we were accusing and that we must think very carefully about that, plus the "lack of evidence" from our side.
'It seemed that from the beginning the rights of the girls not to be abused came way below those of their abusers.'
Still, Senior and her team continued with the monthly meetings and prepared reports for everyone present about their concerns, including abuser identification, hotspots and girls at risk.
Eventually they had collated so much data, their police representative Inspector Anita McKenzie suggested sharing the intelligence with police officers, who would place it into something she described as ‘Box Five’ on the force’s computer network.
'This, we were told, was a high-security program that would protect the identities of the girls involved in abuse and also those who were supplying the information,' Senior explained.
'To me, this sounded like the ideal solution to the increasing number and variety of reports we were receiving. And, more importantly, that it would produce results in terms of arrests and convictions.'
|Senior was a Good Housekeeping, Women of the Year Award winner in 2015|
Her intelligence was nowhere to be found on the Police National Computer, and as far as he was concerned there was no such thing as Box Five.
'It appeared that ‘Box Five’ was nothing more than a term for a digital wastepaper basket. All the time and effort we’d spent passing information to the police, and not a scrap of it had gone anywhere.'
Meanwhile, Senior reveals that she noticed a difference in the cases she was working with from 2001 - more girls in the Rotherham area were coming to them of stories of abuse, all very similar in detail; from the way they were groomed by their so-called much older 'boyfriends', to how they were then blackmailed into having sex with other men.
They were reporting meeting men, travelling around in fancy cars, being offered free drinks and drugs, and being treated to McDonald's.
The men would initially get their younger brothers, cousins or other family and friends to befriend the girls and then introduce them to their 'older mates'.
Senior said: 'By this stage, a lot of information had been extracted from the girls: where they lived, which school they went to, what their parents did, what music and films they liked – the lot.
'Just recently, a woman I’d helped for years summed this up to me when she said: "They knew every single thing about me – and all I knew about them was their nicknames".’
The abusers mostly singled out girls who were vulnerable, living in care homes and coming from troubled homes.
However, Senior points out that there were a few exceptions - saying that a 'very high proportion' came from decent families where their parents were 'actively doing everything they could' to stop the abuse.
She said: 'They were out pounding the streets at night for hours looking for their children. And what do you do when your child goes missing for days?
'You would have them calling the police, saying: "I know my daughter is in a house over the road and there's 20 men in there". All the Police would say was: "Look, go and get her".'
In her book, Senior recounts the story of a desperate father who ran into his daughter's abuser in Asda and warned him that he'd come after him with the gun he used for hunting.
'He related this story in a meeting at which police officers were present. They tore a strip off him, but still did nothing about his daughter’s abusers,' Senior recalled.
Meanwhile, his daughter dropped out of school, was forced to convert to Islam and was ordered to never smoke, drink or listen to music.
She was passed around her abuser's friends and forced to have anal sex.
Senior maintains that the abuse in Rotherham had nothing to do with religion.
'Religion doesn't rape and colour doesn't rape, people do. If you come into this town and rape our children, we don't care what your background is,' she said.
I have to disagree with her here. Islam gives men the right to do whatever they wish with a non-Muslim girl who is under their power. A girl who attaches herself to a Muslim man is fair game. Islam rapes; and the culture of Pakistan is drenched in Islam.
'But I will state, quite categorically, that I believe there is an issue around respect for women, and particularly young white females, coming from some members of the Asian community in this country.
'I think that girls aged 14 or 15 are not always seen as children and, perhaps because of their own culture and customs, are deemed to be "easy".
'I truthfully think we've done a complete disservice to our ethnic community. We should have been awareness raising and working with this community.
'We worked with boys and Muslim girls who were abused within their own community. Some of the boys were being used for drug running or grooming the girls, but some were being sexually abused also.
'Whatever the cultural aspects, I think that if in the early days the authorities had gone into Rotherham’s Asian community and spoken about the abuse to community elders, imams and councillors, they would have been as appalled as we were. But allowing the abuse to continue unchecked was, I believe, a green light which indicated "This is OK".'
In 2004, a lawyer called Adele Weir was tasked with going through the files of Risky Business as part for a Home Office report on child sexual exploitation.
Her report identified a significant number of children who were being targeted of groomed for child sexual exploitation and said the abusers were 'well known to all significant services in Rotherham'.
Rotherham police were outraged by the report and Adele received a furious response from the then District Commander in Rotherham, Christine Burbeary, and the head of Risky Business.
Shortly afterwards, Senior arrived at work to discover there had been a burglary and case files had disappeared.
Minutes of the meetings about Adele's report and who she was allowed to send it to had been changed, but no locks were broken and the burglary went unsolved. Adele's report never made it into the final Home Office report.
'Working at Risky Business was never a job it was a vocation. It was an opportunity to change lives for the better,' she said.
'Now I see the devastating effect years later on people trying to mend and I know why I kept fighting then.
'I have a really great husband and family. I took a lot of it home. I would often sob into my husband Paul's arms over something that happened.
'But it was a battle that I'd never stop fighting. You would have to just brush yourself down and think: "Today is a new day".
'With the police the fact that we were youth workers was always an issue, so I did a law degree in 2004 just through sheer frustration [with the police],' she said.
'I did my degree because I might be able to argue more positively.'
In 2009 Senior met Rupert Chang, the one police officer that was 'willing to look in the grey area'.
Chang was the sergeant in charge of the Safer Neighbourhood team for Clifton Park, an area where Senior and her team had concerns that some of the female pupils at the local school were being groomed by a particular group of men.
'He looked at all the intelligence and information and asked me to do training with his officers,' Senior explained. 'We worked with these officers that went out and put meat on the bones.'
Operation Central was launched and it led to the jailing of five men for sexual offences against girls in Rotherham in 2010.
One of the girls had previously been orally raped in the street, an act witnessed by her mother.
The day after Senior was with her, trying to persuade her to report the attack to the police but the girl asked if she could go and see Santa at the local shopping centre.
'I could’ve wept when I heard it. The day before, this little girl had been subjected to the most horrific sexual assault and all she wanted to do was go to see Father Christmas. It just gives you an insight into how vulnerable these children really are,' Senior recalled.
Five men were found guilty and three acquitted.
Umar Razaq, 24 was found guilty of one count of sexual activity with a child - a 13-year-old girl - and his brother Razwan Razaq, 30, was found guilty of two charges of sexual activity with a child, relating to two girls. They were sentenced to 15 years between them.
Zafran Ramzan, 21, was jailed for nine years for the rape of a 16-year-old girl in her own home and two counts of sexual activity with a child.
Adil Hussain, was found guilty of one charge of sexual activity with a child - a 13-year-old girl, and Moshin Khan, 21, was also jailed for four years for sexual offences.
Adil Hussain (left) was found guilty of one charge of sexual activity with a child - a 13-year-old girl. Zafran Ramzan (right) was jailed for nine years for the rape of a 16-year-old girl in her own home and two counts of sexual activity with a child
Umar Razaq (left) was found guilty of one count of sexual activity with a child - a 13-year-old girl and his brother Razwan (right) was found guilty of two charges of sexual activity with a child, relating to two girls
Mohsin Khan was also jailed for four years for sexual offences in 2010. Ashtiaq Ashgar (right) murdered 17-year-old Laura Wilson in 2010 after she told his family she was pregnant with his baby. He was given a life sentence but will be eligible for parole in 2029 when he is 34
Afterwards, Senior received a police Commander’s Award for contributing to the success of Operation Central.
But the following year, Senior left Risky Business after the organisation was blamed for failing a seventeen-year-old girl called Laura Wilson who was murdered by her boyfriend Ashtiaq Ashgar after she told his mother she had fallen pregnant by him.
My lowest moment was when I walked away from Rotherham borough council. It felt like a bereavement. I came home with my little box of things off my desk and said: 'I can't ever, ever do this again.'
Senior had known Laura since she was 10 years old and had made countless notes on her involvement with her.
She was known to be giving sexual favours to men in takeaways in exchange for alcohol; she'd been threatened with a gun and she was self-harming,
Senior was accused of not sharing information about the risks Laura was facing and was so horrified by the cover up that she decided to leave Risky Business.
Even now she says she finds it too devastating to speak about Laura.
'My lowest moment was when I walked away from Rotherham borough council. It felt like a bereavement. I came home with my little box of things off my desk and said: "I can't ever, ever do this again."
However she started a new job with a young people's charity called Swinton Lock and almost 'immediately recognised a girl who was showing indicators' of being abused.
'I put training in place for the staff to help her and my husband said: "I thought we'd walked away from all this". But when you're ingrained in it you just can't turn your back on it.'
Later that summer, Senior was approached by a father of a victim of sexual abuse who had been speaking to a reporter from The Times newspaper, Andrew Norfolk.
Cautiously, Senior agreed to meet with him, with her husband. She had taken some reports she had in her possession from Risky Business to the meeting to see how he'd react.
'I saw the look of horror on his face. It was the first time I'd looked at someone and could see they were as shocked and horrified as me and believed me,' she recalled.
'So I made the decision. Like he always is, my husband was very supportive. He told me, "you need to do what's right for those children".
"You won't be able to live with yourself if you don't take what's the right path".
So Senior passed confidential documentation on to Norfolk, knowing what consequences - including imprisonment - she could face.
Professor Alexis Jay, pictured following the publication of a report she wrote which found around 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town of Rotherham over a 16-year period
'Andrew told me his lawyers said there was a high chance I'd be arrested. He told me I was looking at up to three years in prison.'
However, Senior admits that she never actually thought about the prospect of being jailed.
'I was managing a charity and thought they might pull funding if I was arrested and that's what worried me.'
But as time passed the pressure of suspicion started to take its toll.
'People would say to me, "this is you, isn't it".' It was making me feel guilty.'
Another journalist reported that the council had spent £20,000 trying to find the source of the leak.
'It was hinted that if it was me if could be looking at prison. I couldn't do it any more,' Senior said.
'I did believe it was a case of when and not if I was arrested. Every time I heard a car come down the street I'd be looking through the curtains.
At the beginning, Senior had no idea of the grooming that was going on in her home town, pictured, and says that there are still women out there today who don't even recognise that they were victims
'In the end, I did it myself and went public. I told Andrew: 'I've got a little boy and if I'm arrested I need it to be when he is not around.'
Senior's identity was revealed by The Times, but she was not arrested in the end.
'Andrew said if I was arrested I needed to just go quietly and their lawyers would represent me and he would let every press person know that they had arrested me rather than the perpetrators.
'I think that's perhaps why they never did it.'
Senior's refusal to give up has seen her dubbed the Erin Brockovitch of Rotherham and the book she's written, Broken And Betrayed, is tipped to become a film
Senior's refusal to give up has seen her dubbed the Erin Brockovitch of Rotherham and the book she's written, Broken And Betrayed, is tipped to become a film
The Times reports shed a light on the abuse and several investigations were launched.
Rotherham council commissioned an inquiry by independent senior social work inspector Alexia Jay.
Her report concluded that 1,400 girls were abused in Rotherham during a 16-year period from 1997 to 2013.
Operation Stovewood, which is expected to run until 2018, was also launched and has identified more than 3,300 lines of inquiry.
It has backed the original estimates of the scale of the abuse made in the Jay report, and has led to up to 29 people being charged with offences relating to child sexual exploitation offences in Rotherham.
Another investigation by the Home Affairs Select Committee concluded in 2014 that both Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police had ignored evidence about the scale of the abuse.
Now Senior is still working at Swinton Lock alongside survivors of abuse to ensure that such a cover up can never happen again.
However she warns that the abuse itself is still going on in Rotherham and nationwide.
'What we have to remember is that it's not unique. It's happening all across the UK. We are at the beginning of a journey,' she said.
'We've recently had one very successful court case. But just because we've had one or two cases doesn't mean it's gone away. Only this week it's announced that there's a brand new investigation into abuse in the Roma community.
'We are still getting new referrals, but people are jumping in and investigating quicker.
'The end goal is more prosecutions, but some will never come forward. Some are in relationships and married now and their partners don't know what happened to them.
'Out there are young people who don't even recognise that they were victims of this. And we don't realise there's a family broken and devastated behind every victim.'
Senior says that abuse is still going on but that procedures are better and victims will be listened to.
She wants parents to be aware that any child can be at risk, no matter what their background
She shrugs off the idea of her book being made into a film, saying: 'I don't really think that would happen. But if it did, let's make it a film about raising awareness.
'I had 20 people asking if I'd write a book and I said no. But what made me decide was that I've been inundated with other people in my position asking: "What do I do? I've told the police, I've told the council."
'And my only answer was ring the press. We can't live in a world where you go to the press to help you. You should be going to the people that are there to help.
'If every senior manager goes away and looks at policies and procedures and asks are we doing enough for our children and if not, what can we do I will be happy.