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Sensemaker: Rotherham whitewash

Sensemaker: Rotherham whitewash

What just happened

Long stories short

  • A 6.1 magnitude earthquake killed at least 920 people in eastern Afghanistan.
  • The UK’s justice secretary floated plans to bypass the European Court of Human Rights to allow asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda.
  • Italy’s foreign minister quit its ruling coalition over its refusal to send military aid to Ukraine. 

Rotherham whitewash

Quarter of a century after British police started receiving reports of widespread grooming and child sex abuse in the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham, the police watchdog has filed its own report. It manages to be damning and a whitewash at the same time.

More than 1,400 teenage girls in Rotherham were groomed, trafficked, abused and often beaten by older men between 1997 and 2013. Many of the victims were in care or missing from home for long periods. Dozens gave harrowing accounts of rape, coercion and neglect. 

Police routinely stopped and questioned the perpetrators in the presence of their victims and failed to intervene to stop the cycle of abuse. The Independent Office for Police Conduct has since investigated 47 officers, yet not one has been sacked. 

The report makes for “uncomfortable” reading, the IOPC says, and it lists multiple failures by South Yorkshire Police (SYP). Yet it states: “Our investigators found no evidence that individual members of the force failed in their statutory duties.”

Those failures:


  • Tackling child sex abuse and exploitation (CSA/E) was never prioritised by the force until it became a public scandal following a series of Times reports starting in 2011.
  • No one took responsibility for investigating it.
  • No one recognised the scale of the problem.
  • There was no dedicated CSA/E unit.
  • There was a culture of victim-blaming among officers who often assumed abuse survivors had chosen to spend time with their abusers; regarded them as “runaways” and “petty criminals”; and failed to record complaints or evidence of crimes.
  • Officers tended to assume the girls were older and the men younger than they really were.
  • There were “missed opportunities” to work with community leaders once it became clear that many of the perpetrators were Asian men.

Specific. Of 265 complaints about police conduct investigated, 43 were upheld. Examples:

  • Police failed to investigate an older man found naked in a bedroom with a teenage girl.
  • An officer told the parent of a survivor who needed surgery after being raped that she might “learn her lesson”.
  • Police agreed to a deal in which a survivor was handed over in return for the perpetrator not being arrested. 
  • Police declined to investigate cases of potential abuse by adult men on the basis that an 11 year-old had been with her “boyfriend” and a 12 year-old had given her “consent” to sexual activity.
  • A complaint was made to police on behalf of a 12 year-old, but no action was taken for four years during which she continued to be abused.
  • A father who complained on his daughter’s behalf was told “nothing could be done because of racial tensions… and this had been happening for a considerable time”.

Separate criminal trials have led to 40 convictions of perpetrators and prison terms of up to 35 years, all but four of them for Asian men. But despite its long list of complaints upheld, the IOPC investigation of the police response during the years when grooming was at its height – known as Operation Linden – has ended up apportioning no individual blame at all.

“We found no officers had a case to answer,” the report states.

Operation Linden offered “zero accountability”, David Greenwood, a solicitor for many of the girls, said when the last officer investigated was cleared of misconduct in April. 

Sarah Champion, the local MP, said police had “repeatedly failed those they had a duty to protect… It cannot be right that no officers have faced consequences for their actions.”

Andrew Norfolk, the Orwell Prize-winning Times reporter who broke the story, wrote last year that, a decade on, child sex abuse was still not getting the police attention it deserved. It was Norfolk who drew attention to the part played in the scandal by men of Pakistani heritage. “What mattered,” he wrote, “in a nation where the vast majority of child sex abusers are white British men, was to understand whether, and if so why, men of one minority community were so over-represented among identified group CSE perpetrators.”

The IOPC report is exhaustive in scope. It still contrives to leave vital questions unanswered, not least whether racial sensitivities inhibited police investigations in the past and inhibit investigations of police today.

Further listening: our Slow Newscast investigating the long-term impact of UK police strip-searching children after a 15 year-old black girl – Child Q – was searched at school while on her period. 


Buffett’s billions
Warren Buffett, founder and principal shareholder of the Berkshire Hathaway group, may be planning to leave tens of billions of dollars to a little-known charity that supports abortion rights. Bloomberg puts Buffett’s current net worth at $94 billion and he has pledged to give away 99 per cent of it. $56 billion of that is pledged to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and nearly $20 billion to four Buffett family foundations, but another $18.7 billion is uncommitted. Large sums could end up with the pro-choice Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, which the WSJ reports is hiring staff and making plans to receive “a massive influx of money”. Susan Buffett, Warren’s late wife, died in 2004. Buffet himself is 91. The US Supreme Court’s ruling on whether to uphold Roe v Wade is imminent.


Germany and Russia
Anyone still wondering if Germany is conflicted in its response to Russia’s war on Ukraine should note Jens Plötner’s remarks this week to the German Council on Foreign Relations. You can fill a lot of newsprint with articles about heavy weaponry, he said, but there’s a lot less written about Germany’s future relationship with Russia – “and that is at least as exciting and relevant an issue”. None of which would mean much, but for the fact that Plötner is Chancellor Scholz’s foreign policy advisor. The first German howitzers have arrived in Ukraine four months after the invasion, as Berlin continues to agonise over whether it can manage without Russian gas. 


No more Captchas!
Apple and Google are phasing out security checks that ask if you’re a robot or ask you to prove you’re not by reading weird messages or clicking on annoying grids of photographs. The tech giants assume this will come as a relief to consumers, and presumably it will. But the security system replacing so-called Captchas is based on fingerprints and selfies; in other words on your phone’s and laptop’s ability to surveil you. The Guardian says it’s the same technology that Apple, Google and Microsoft announced in May they would be using to replace passwords. Big Brother is our friend.

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

UK sperm shortage
Barriers to donating sperm in Britain seem to be forcing women to seek it abroad. The UK is a sperm-donation outlier in that donors cannot be anonymous; nor can they be paid, apart from up to £35 per donation for expenses. As a result, there are long waiting lists for domestically produced sperm, and the Times says three-quarters of sperm used in UK fertility clinics comes from overseas. A report by the Progress Educational Trust, a fertility charity, says slack regulation in some other countries means this reliance on imports puts women at greater risk of sexually transmitted disease. A majority of British men have no objection to donating sperm in principle. Only one in five would not consider it. 

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Germany and EVs
Two weeks ago the EU seemed to have broad backing for a 2035 deadline for phasing out internal combustion engines. Now the country that invented them is having second thoughts. Christian Lindner, the German finance minister, told an industry gathering yesterday a ban was the wrong idea and his country wouldn’t back it because there would continue to be a niche for combustion. Lindner is a car nut who bought his first Porsche (a Boxster) when he was 19. His main ride these days is a Mercedes plug-in hybrid. The Greens who form part of Germany’s ruling coalition have cried foul.

Thanks for reading. Please share this around and tell us what we’ve missed. News tips and story ideas are welcome. Email them to sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Giles Whittell

Photographs Getty Images, Shutterstock

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