Amy comes from a stable, loving home, far removed from the background of family dysfunction or residential care often associated with victims of child sexual exploitation.Source: The Times (£)
Hers was a secure life built around the normal routines of schoolgirls up and down Britain. But it had one weakness for those intent on abuse — a daily window of opportunity between the end of the school day at 4.30pm and her parents’ return home from the family business four hours later.
For three months, when they thought she was at home or playing with her friends, the 13-year-old was catching a bus into Rotherham, South Yorkshire, with a girl from her school who had introduced her to some exciting new friends.
Throughout the abuse that followed, Amy was never home late, nor did she once go missing overnight. But as the weeks passed, her mother sensed that something was wrong. Amy was misbehaving at school, which was unheard of, and she had become moody and argumentative at home.
By the time her parents learnt the truth, their child had been repeatedly raped and used for sex by at least six adults, all in their late teens or early 20s.
The Times revealed yesterday that South Yorkshire Police and social services knew for more than a decade that organised groups of men, largely of Pakistani heritage, were grooming, pimping and trafficking girls from Rotherham. Hundreds of confidential documents shown to this newspaper suggested that agencies consistently failed to protect victims or prosecute offenders. Last night, Denis MacShane, the town’s Labour MP, demanded an independent public inquiry.
Warning bells sounded in Amy’s case one evening when neighbours phoned her mother at work. Two young Asian men had been wandering around outside their house, knocking on doors and windows and were now sitting outside in a parked car. She rushed home.
The men had gone but Amy, who was inside, had a mark on her face. She said she had tripped; in fact, she had been punched by her main abuser. The next day, while Amy was at school, her mother found a mobile phone in her bedroom with more than a hundred male names and numbers.
Amy, whose name The Times has changed to protect her identity, remembers arriving home that afternoon. Her mother was sitting at the kitchen table waiting for her. She asked Amy to sit down and tell her what was wrong — and the floodgates opened.
“I just blurted it out. All that time I think I’d been waiting for someone to ask me. Finally, someone had,” she recalled.
Her mother’s memory is that Amy began sobbing hysterically: “I’ve been raped, Mum. They’re raping me.”
“She was distraught and she wasn’t making much sense. We were both crying. I phoned her dad, told him to get home straight away, then dialled 999. Amy said, ‘It’s no good ringing the police, Mum. These people are more powerful than God’ .”
So began the steepest of learning curves for Amy’s parents, whose assumption that the police would “sort everything out” proved naive in the extreme. The first officer to hear her story filed a report that evening, in April 2003, stating that although Amy was alleging four rapes “it appears this matter would be more realistically viewed as unlawful sexual intercourse as she has gone back to see him repeatedly”.
With her clothes taken as evidence, Amy was medically examined and gave a three-hour police interview in which she spoke about her main abuser but was too ashamed to mention other incidents with other men.
The alleged rapist, in his late teens, came from a family with a reputation for dealing drugs, using weapons and violence. Amy’s family say that threats of retribution soon followed.
Two girls who witnessed some of the abuse initially agreed to give statements but swiftly changed their minds, passing on a message that if Amy gave evidence she was “a dead girl walking”.
Men began phoning the house suggesting that their home would be firebombed and Amy’s mother raped. The family, described in a social services report as “very loving and protective”, was terrified.
As a result, Amy withdrew her complaint. She and her parents insist that they took the decision after learning that police had lost her clothes and, thus, any chance of securing forensic evidence to support her claims.
South Yorkshire Police says it lost the clothes after Amy asked for the case to be dropped. At the time, a police report noted that she maintained the truth of her story. An officer added her written opinion that the girl was lying. The case was dropped, marked “no crime — false complaint”. There were said to be “no further lines of inquiry”.
Within six months Amy was back at a police station. Her parents, who had moved Amy to a new school, thought she had ended all contact with the men. The respite was only temporary.
Amy knew that they were using her but part of her craved their attention. After a gap of several months, mobile phone contact resumed, although not with her main abuser, and she persuaded herself that his friends were different and genuinely cared about her.
Phone contact led to meetings. By the summer of 2003, aged 14, she was heading downhill fast. Matters came to a head when two of the so-called friends persuaded her to go to a flat, where she claimed that she was sexually abused in a bedroom by five men, one after the other.
Four were British Pakistanis. The fifth, aged 32, an Iraqi Kurd asylum seeker. Two were strangers who arrived after she was placed in a bedroom. The door handle was held from the outside to prevent her leaving.
“I wanted to cry. I just wanted to go home,” she told the police after confiding in her mother. The family decided that this time, whatever the cost, the guilty men must face justice.
Amy’s mother wrote to David Blunkett, the Home Secretary. They had meetings with their local MP and in September were visited by a police officer and social worker who told them that Amy “could help police to stop this by giving evidence against [the men]”.
A social worker’s notes record that Amy “decided to go ahead with a complaint”. She wanted “to get away from them and to stop it happening to other girls”.
She gave police a two-hour interview, identified the flat and three men were arrested. Two, aged 20 and 32, said they knew Amy but denied that sexual activity had taken place. The third, 19, admitted having sex with her and agreed that a succession of men had gone into the bedroom. He claimed, however, not to have known “that all these men would have sex with her”.
Amy and her parents hoped that police would not only charge the men from the flat but also reopen their investigation into the rapes six months earlier. Not so. The police concluded there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone.
The same detective constable who previously suggested that Amy was lying sent a report to her inspector. She wrote that she had told Amy’s parents “that the police could not stop [Amy] from meeting these men if she wished to do so and that they had to accept some responsibility for protecting their own daughter”.
In his response, the inspector questioned Amy’s “strength and credibility as a witness”. Seemingly forgetting the admissions made by the 19-year-old, he suggested that there was “no corroboration in respect of any of the allegations”.
His conclusion was that there was “no realistic prospect of conviction regarding the three identified suspects”. A file went to the Crown Prosecution Service and was duly returned by the reviewing lawyer with a recommendation against bringing charges.
For Amy’s parents, the news was devastating. Not only were the men at large but the implied message was that the authorities did not believe their daughter. By now she was barely attending school and sleeping in her mother’s bed because she was too scared to be alone at night. A child psychiatrist voiced “extreme concern” about her mental state.
The doctor wrote that Amy’s “faith in institutions has been undermined by the failure of the police to use the evidence that was given to them or even to confront those adults, who have a reputation for abusing other children”.
The psychiatrist later told Amy’s parents that “these men working across the country, targeting and trafficking young girls for the purposes of prostitution . . . if they were in their own country, they would be either stoned to death or beheaded”.