Only 82 of 1,400 potential victims of child sexual abuse have been identified in Rotherham, by the National Crime Agency.
The NCA said it recognised it was “only a small percentage (5%) of the overall potential number of victims and survivors” but said the scale and complexity of the investigation meant it was pursuing more than 10,000 lines of inquiry.
The agency was brought in following the explosive 2014 Jay Report that identified large-scale abuse in the South Yorkshire town and a failure by police and the local council. to investigate complaints made by victims.
The NCA has so far identified 29 “designated suspects” and hundreds more “potential suspects”.
This means there are six more people on the police radar since February, when a grooming gang of three brothers, their uncle and two women were found guilty of 55 serious offences against teenage girls in Rotherham, some of which lay undetected for almost 20 years.
Operation Stovewood is the largest child sex exploitation investigation in the country and one lawyer working with victims said he understood why it was taking so long.
“It is slow progress, but there are doing a really thorough job. I think it will be five years before they get to a point where they have persuaded as many victims to come forward as willing to,” said David Greenwood.
He said the police were reviewing all the documentation and investigating the status of potential victims before approaching them. “They want to see where a girl is in her life, whether she is safe, whether she’s in the right place in life to go forward with evidence. The background checks are really thorough,” he said.
The NCA said one victim they had interviewed had provided information about nine further victims, 17 witnesses and 40 potential suspects. “This demonstrates the scale and complexity of sexual abuse under investigation,” it said in a statement.
It said victim interviews can take weeks or months to arrange and the review of in excess of 120,000 historic documents over 16 years in relation to child sexual exploitation had never been done before.