More than 70 men have been arrested during lengthy police investigations into claims of child sexual exploitation by alleged ‘grooming’ gangs in West Yorkshire, it has been revealed.
Three major investigations, in Calderdale, Leeds and Keighley, involve allegations of multiple offences of sexual exploitation.
In Calderdale, 31 men are on bail for alleged offences against two girls and in Keighley, 28 men are on bail in relation to alleged offences against four girls.
In Leeds, 12 men are going through the courts having been charged with sexual offences against a girl.
Police released the figures as a campaigner warned that the sexual exploitation of children is a much wider issue than had been acknowledged.
Hilary Willmer, chairman of trustees at the charity Parents Against Child Sexual Exploitation, said a “huge amount” of youngsters were being abused.
She was speaking after the report into events in Rotherham, which found over 1,400 youngsters were abused over 16 years from 1997.
Asked if similar numbers could have fallen prey to abusers in other towns, she said: “I wouldn’t want to band figures around but it’s certainly a huge amount that is going on.”
Ms Willmer worked with families in Rotherham in the late 1990s and was a colleague of the author of a 2002 report into the unfolding scandal, which was never published.
The document, by a Home Office researcher, was “effectively suppressed”, according to Professor Alexis Jay who wrote the report into events in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
Ms Willmer said the report “actually was drawing attention to all the failings of the local council, social care, police and everyone, who were failing to deal with information that was passed to them”.
She said: “We were able to identify houses where the young girls were taken as well as all sorts of other places, that there would be a big network operating in places like the shopping mall at Meadowhall.
“It was well known, car numbers and information was handed to them but she was told that it was all anecdotal and therefore not enough to do anything about it.”
Prof Jay’s report said the work resulted in a chapter of a draft report on research into the situation in Rotherham which “contained severe criticisms of the agencies” including “alleged indifference towards, and ignorance of, child sexual exploitation on the part of senior managers”.
She said: “Had this report been treated with the seriousness it merited at the time by both the police and the council, the children involved then and later would have been better protected and abusers brought to justice. These events have led to suspicions of collusion and cover up.”
Ms Willmer said: “I think there was a denial because of the perception that these were errant teenagers who were just a nuisance.
“There were certainly instances of where parents have gone out and found the children and told the police where they are, not just in Rotherham but elsewhere, and it hasn’t been followed up.
“Hopefully that is less common now than it was at the time. But certainly there was a perception, the received wisdom, was these girls had chosen this lifestyle, they are going out with these men and they have almost got what they asked for.”
The Home Affairs Select Committee is poised to examine what happened to the 2002 report.