Police have been urged to “declare war” on a child grooming gang after several women told Sky News they were abused by a group of men operating in Hull.
A police probe into the alleged crimes has gone dormant, but the UK’s former top child abuse investigator has called for detectives to “double down” on the case after examining a thousand pages of evidence.
Sky News has gathered testimonies from several alleged victims, including one who claims primary school children were targeted.
Operation Marksman, an investigation by Humberside Police into an alleged child grooming gang in Hull, wound down earlier this year with no charges against any of the 34 people arrested.
After examining transcripts of interviews, diaries, texts, photos and school logs from alleged victims, Jim Gamble, the former head of the child exploitation and online protection service, told Sky News there was “significant corroboration” and the case should go to court.
“If they need additional evidence, then go out and get it,” Mr Gamble said of Humberside Police.
“We need to declare war on this type of behaviour, we need to say it is a priority.
“It’s not just about exploitation, it is about rape by appointment.”
Sky News will be revealing evidence from the different alleged victims over the course of this week.
Sarah (not her real name) says she was repeatedly raped from the age of 13 in a block of flats in Hull up until 2019.
She told Sky News: “There was girls as young as primary school there, in primary school uniform.
“I’ll never forget that girl I saw sat there in a primary school uniform, probably eight or nine years old.
“She was there with her sister, who was a little bit older, and I remember her screaming in that bedroom.”
Public faith in police investigations into sexual abuse cases is running low after a report earlier this year found fewer than 2% of reported rapes led to charges.
This latest case raises questions about the evidence threshold and police resources in these investigations.
Humberside Police say they conducted an extensive investigation, making 34 arrests and seizing and examining 150 devices, but none of this helped to provide the supporting evidence.
Detective Chief Inspector Rebecca Dickinson told Sky News: “We haven’t identified evidence that supports there is wide scale organised criminality grooming within the Humberside, particularly the Hull area.
“We will have, as part of our policing delivery, ‘hot spots’ where we get reports in and then we put the patrols in those areas and do those investigations to confirm whether or not we have got wide scale CSE (child sexual exploitation).
“In relation to this investigation, we can say we have got no organised criminality within Humberside Police, the whole area, for CSE.”
But there is plenty of reported child abuse in the area.
In the two years to March 2020, Humberside Police recorded 458 reported rapes of a female aged 15 or under. A fraction of those cases resulted in charges.
The women who spoke to Sky News provided evidence including diaries with accounts of grooming, photos of the bruising and strangulation marks that they say were caused by the men.
There are also school welfare reports which flag numerous warnings of child exploitation including recorded threats from alleged abusers.
Mr Gamble concludes there is a strong case, saying: “You look for corroboration and there’s significant corroboration from a number of victims about individual predators. So, it’s not just ‘he said, she said’.
“We’ve got a number of victims saying: ‘Here’s the pattern of behaviour, it’s identical.’
“If they need additional evidence, then go out and get it. You know, it’s not that you don’t know who the target is.
“I think it’s time to double down.
“It’s time to say ‘look, we’ve had a bit of a brick wall, we are now going to bring some additional resources to bear’.”
Mr Gamble does not blame individual police officers but feels they are under resourced.
He said: “I think if we’re looking at how do we really make a difference from a criminal justice point of view, that is that we do treat this as seriously as we treat terrorism.
“That we use technical surveillance, so that we can monitor where they are, and who they’re talking to. This is organised, you know, industrial level rape.”
For the people of Hull, the biggest question is whether this gang was doing this and are they still?
In a series of reports this week Sky News will meet the alleged victims and examine some of the evidence provided.