‘……………By Martin Evans, Crime Correspondent
National Crime Agency says new investigation into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham identifies estimated 300 possible suspects
At least 300 possible suspects have been identified by investigators probing the Rotherham child sex exploitation scandal.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said most of the potential suspects were Asian men, while the vast majority of victims were young British girls.
The NCA launched a major investigation into the scandal after a damning report by Professor Alex Jay last year, revealed that as many as 1,400 children had been raped, trafficked and groomed by mainly Asian gangs in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013.
Following the revelations South Yorkshire police, which was criticised for its handling of abuse allegations, asked the NCA to intervene and the agency launched Operation Stovewood.
The report, which was published in August last year and was highly critical of police and local authority actions over 16 years, shocked the nation andled to a wave of high-profile resignations.
Trevor Pearce, the officer in overall charge of the investigation said so far the number of potential offenders was in the low hundreds, but he acknowledged some of the names gathered could have been duplicated.
Steve Baldwin, the senior investigating officer, said more than 3,300 lines of inquiry had been identified so far and the investigation would take some time to complete.
He said: “The abuse that has taken place in Rotherham is horrific. We have gathered a huge amount of information which details some very disturbing events.”
He said work to identify all the victims was ongoing, but the figure of 1,400 that appeared in Professor Jay’s report was a “good estimate”.
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The NCA confirmed that two of those under investigation are serving or former Rotherham councillors.
Mr Baldwin said his team was prioritising those suspects who still posed a threat and had committed the most serious offences.
But he said: “I want to assure all victims that we will examine all allegations of abuse and, most importantly, we will listen to victims.”
A spokesman for the NSPCC said: “The scale of child sexual abuse in Rotherham that continues to be uncovered is staggering. Eight years after the first victims of widespread grooming were identified the scandal is still rumbling on.
“This latest police investigation may relate to historical cases but still leaves the feeling that the dark shadow of abuse has not been lifted from the city.
“ We must hope this latest operation will finally sweep up those offenders who may still be posing a threat to children in Rotherham. No one should rest easy until all such predators are removed from the streets and victims get the justice they deserve.” ………..’