The Home Office had opportunities to question the response of the police and other agencies to reports of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham years before the scandal erupted in the town, according to a newly published review.
An investigation into what information had been passed to the Home Office, published on Tuesday, found that key documents could not be located but concluded that details were available to officials which could have been followed up.
Rotherham Labour MP Sarah Champion responded to the latest report into events in the South Yorkshire town, saying: "How many lives could have been protected if swift action had been taken a decade before?"
In a written statement to the Commons in response to the review, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said: "The review did find that pieces of information questioning the response of statutory services were available to the Home Office, meaning that opportunities to follow up on, or seek further information about, matters in Rotherham, including whether the police and other statutory agencies were responding appropriately, existed."
Mr Javid said that, since 2014, the Home Office has introduced a recording and referral system for allegations of child abuse.
He said: "The Permanent Secretary and I take this issue extremely seriously and the Home Office will continue to promote amongst all staff the vital importance of using all available information to consider if a child is at risk of abuse."
The newly published review was ordered by then home secretary Theresa May following the Jay Report of 2014, which shocked the nation when it estimated that more than 1,400 children had been abused, groomed and trafficked by gangs in the town.
This inquiry focused on suggestions that the Home Office had received details about the scale of the exploitation of children in Rotherham and the response of agencies as part of the funding and evaluation of a research project.
There was a particular focus on a document mentioned in the Jay Report, believed to have been written by a Home Office researcher sometime in 2002, which raised a number of issues.
A further review of how this internal report had been compiled, by barrister Richard Whittam QC and NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless, said: "The department knew that significant disputes between local agencies in Rotherham existed within the research project.
"However, the Home Office focus seems specifically to have been on the consequence of such disputes for the advancement of evidence that would support a commissioned evaluation, rather than the cause of such disputes.
"Closer consideration of the latter could have uncovered faster the failings we now know were putting children at risk."
Ms Champion said: "It is clear that the Home Office knew about child sexual exploitation in Rotherham from 2002.
"The report also highlights the knowledge of the local authority and South Yorkshire Police of the abuse.
"Why, when so many in authority knew the scale and severity of this crime, did it take until 2014, with the publication of the Jay Report, for a large-scale investigation to occur?
"How many lives could have been protected if swift action had been taken a decade before?"
The MP added: "This review makes it clear that the Home Office did know about the abuse and I now believe even more strongly that they have a moral duty to help the women rebuild their lives."
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