May 5, 2015 / 9:32 AM / 4 years ago

Warnings of UK child abuse made years before scandal revealed

LONDON, May 5 (Reuters) - Authorities in a northern English town where some 1,400 children were sexually abused had been warned about the issue a decade before the scale of the scandal came to light, according to reports disclosed on Tuesday.

Last year, an inquiry revealed that huge numbers of children, mainly girls in social care homes who were as young as 11, were abducted, raped and beaten by gangs of predominantly Asian men in Rotherham over a 16-year period until 2013.

It found police and council officials had failed to act despite evidence of abuse partly out of fear of being labelled racist.

On Tuesday, the Sheffield Star newspaper said two reports by strategic drugs analyst Dr Angie Heal written in 2003 and 2006 had outlined the serious problem of child exploitation and that offenders were acting with impunity.

Heal told the paper, which obtained her reports following a freedom of information request, that police had failed to respond to her warnings and one officer had told her their priority was burglary and car crime.

“I just feel so upset and very, very angry - the abuse could have been stopped,” she told the paper. “I can’t understand why anyone told about the multiple rape of children wouldn’t respond effectively to that.”

Britain has been rocked by a series of child abuse scandals in recent years, although the Rotherham case was the most shocking.

It has prompted the government to order a major inquiry into abuse dating back to the 1970s and whether politicians or those in powerful public roles failed to act or deliberately covered it up.

Following last year’s damning report, Shaun Wright, the elected Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, quit after coming under huge pressure to resign. He had also been in charge of children’s services in Rotherham for some of the period when the abuse occurred.

South Yorkshire Police said it had admitted there had been failings in the past, and said the new Commissioner had announced a new inspection into misconduct issues.

“South Yorkshire Police has made significant progress in tackling child sexual exploitation but we understand more needs to be done,” it said in a statement.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission is also currently investigating the force’s handling of child abuse complaints, and said in March allegations against 42 serving and retired officers had been made. (Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Kate Holton)

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