'They were like the Mafia:' Two Rotherham whistleblowers accuse police watchdog of protecting senior officers

·6 min read

Two whistleblowers in the Rotherham sexual abuse scandal have accused the police watchdog of protecting senior police officers and acting "like the Mafia".  

Youth worker, Jayne Senior, and former police strategic drugs analyst, Angie Heal, made a complaint against senior command at South Yorkshire police for failing to protect children against sexual grooming gangs in Rotherham.

Last week, the complaint was successfully upheld by the police watchdog.

However, the pair say they had to battle to get their allegations heard and say they were originally warned by the watchdog they were making a "vexatious complaint," which could lead to imprisonment.

Ms Senior, a youth worker awarded an MBE in 2016, says when she made the complaint about senior officers, she was told by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC): "If I continued, I would be seen as a vexatious complainant, which means I would be stopped from making any more complaints."

When she pressed ahead, she added: "I received a very angry telephone call from someone in the IOPC, saying very clearly that if I continue down this path, I need to be very aware that there's actually legislation that if a vexatious complainant continues to complain they can be looking at two years' imprisonment."

She later told her husband: "Wow, it's like the mafia - you try to go for them at the top and everyone around them comes out fighting."

She told Sky News: "They see us as a pariah. Rather than thinking 'how can we change things' they are thinking 'how can we silence this person and how can we make it as difficult as possible for them to come forward'."

Ms Senior said while she had made several complaints on behalf of victims, without trouble, and was being approached by the IOPC for help with these, the difficulties came when her complaints related to high-ranking officers.

Sarah Champion, MP for Rotherham, told Sky News: "What I would say about Angie and Jayne is, they were persecuted. They still are being persecuted.

"These are two people trying to help the most vulnerable people in our community being vilified, told they were making vexatious allegations."

Read more:
Sexually abused children in Rotherham were seen as "problems not victims"

Ms Senior had previously been given a commander's award by the police after the successful prosecution of a grooming gang in 2010 and she had been invited to Downing Street in thanks for the work she had done to expose the scale of abuse in Rotherham which emerged after a public inquiry by Alexis Jay.

Prof Jay's report in 2014 concluded around 1,400 children had been sexually abused between 1997 and 2013 predominantly by British-Pakistani men.

A decade earlier, drug strategy analyst at South Yorkshire Police, Angie Heal, had written three internal reports between 2002 and 2006 which identified child sexual abuse within drugs gangs.

Vindicated

She had been "shocked" by her findings but felt they had not been acted upon by her police force, and after the Jay report was published, she joined forces with Ms Senior to complain about the role of senior officers in failing to tackle the problem.

Last week Angie and Jayne were vindicated. The police watchdog upheld their complaint. But the full report into senior officers, seen by Sky News, was not published. Only aspects of it were included in a much broader review into the role of the police called Operation Linden.

The IOPC investigation into the senior command, called operation Amazon, was sent to the complainants on Wednesday and it criticises the lack of strategy to tackle the problem of grooming gangs, but it does not name any officers nor make specific recommendations for the future.

Ms Heal feels aspects relating to senior officers have been buried. She told Sky News: "It's not highlighted at all. You have to know what you are looking for. It doesn't mention senior officers. It's not commented on until page 112 (in the Operation Linden report).

"It's virtually the last section of the report.

Senior officers omitted

"There are no names (of officers). The report we've been given isn't being made public. My feeling is there is a lot of protecting of reputations."

Ms Heal added: "The IOPC have made a lot of recommendations in Linden but there are no recommendations in Amazon for senior officers.

"So, the senior officers are still being left out and if you don't understand what's going on at the top then how can you ever put things right."

The IOPC was also hampered by a lack of cooperation. It has limited powers when it comes to interviewing witnesses.

The watchdog contacted several retired police officers who worked in child protection and intelligence roles. However, the IOPC report stated: "They would not engage with us, and we could not force them to do so.

"This has been a barrier to obtaining certain evidence."

Ms Senior said: "How can people just get away with not only ignoring child abuse but then refusing to give evidence? These are people that are paid out of the public purse."

'Our priority is the survivors'

Responding to the allegations from Ms Senior and Ms Heal, the IOPC told Sky News: "Throughout our work we have always done our best to listen to survivors and we would be happy to meet with them and listen to any feedback.

"Operation Linden has been unparalleled in its complexity and presented investigators with many challenges.

"We are proud of the impact this work has had - and the real changes in policing we expect to see as a result - but also intend to use this as an opportunity to learn and improve in the future.

"Our priority has always been the welfare of the survivors, who have shown incredible bravery in coming forward and throughout the whole process. We have worked hard throughout this process to keep individuals informed about the progress of their investigation.

"We recognise that some of the outcomes will not be what was hoped for but every single case we looked into has helped to inform our recommendations that aim to ensure others do not have to go through the same experiences."

South Yorkshire Police statement:

"We fully accept the findings of the IOPC in Operation Linden and where the IOPC concluded there was a case to answer, South Yorkshire Police took action against those officers without exception.

"We have also accepted all of the recommendations for the force and have actioned those in full.

"However, in one of the 93 investigations, which looked at the overall failure of South Yorkshire Police, which we fully accept, the IOPC investigation did not relate to the conduct of an individual officer or staff member.

"On this basis, South Yorkshire Police could not agree with the IOPC as no specific person was identified. In line with the regulations, we provided feedback but, the IOPC upheld their decision and we accept this.

"Had an officer been identified, or should they be identified in the future, we will take the necessary course of action under the Police Reform Act."

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