Rotherham MBC failed to investigate claims of stolen files and deleted computer records relating to child sexual exploitation (CSE) at the height of the scandal, an independent investigation has found.
A report, published today, concluded that ‘on the balance of probability’ it was likely that a Home Office researcher’s files were removed from council offices and computer data impaired in 2002.
The researcher, who was at the time working for the Risky Business project, which was established in 1997 to look into CSE and was based in youth services at the council, filed a grievance against the authority.
However, following the departure of the researcher, referred to in the report as Individual F, from the council, Rotherham closed the grievance and did not follow up the matter.
The report read: ‘By leaving Individual F’s claims unaddressed, the council missed an opportunity to confirm at the time whether any removal of documents and/or impairment of computer files had occurred or not.
‘In view of the significance of the matter, the council’s procedures should have led the council to look at the matter outside of the grievance.
‘Not least, there should have been recognition of the potential loss of data, reportable under the Data Protection Act.’
The report said there was ‘good evidence’ that a ‘significant number of people were told at the time’ about the alleged incident.
It also noted that, due to the growing prominence of Risky Business, there ‘might well have been strong motivation for individuals to prevent the information held in Risky Business files from being reported to statutory agencies’.
The alleged ‘raid’ was widely publicised in October 2014 after the Home Affairs Select Committee published a report saying: ‘An unknown individual subsequently gained access to [the researcher’s] office and removed all of the data relating to the Home Office work.
‘There were no signs of a forced entry and the action involved moving through key-coded and locked security doors.’
After this, senior management and members at Rotherham claimed they were unaware of any allegations, prompting then chief executive Martin Kimber to commission investigators to carry out the probe.
The alleged incident did not result in the loss of information because the duplicates were held.