Children as young as 11 in the Yorkshire town of Rotherham were raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities in England, beaten and intimidated, by groups of mainly Asian men from 1997 to 2013, a troubling new report claims.
The inquiry team found examples of "children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone."
Revealing details of the inquiry's findings, Professor Alexis Jay, who wrote the latest report, said: "It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered."
The report pinned the blame on the leadership of South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham council.
Despite calls for him to quit over the sex abuse scandal, South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright has vowed to stay in his job.
Wright was a Labour cabinet member for children and young people's services at Rotherham Council from 2005 to 2010, when he received three reports about widespread abuse but failed to act. The Labour Party has now called for his resignation.
Prof Jay said: “Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers. At an operational level, the police gave no priority to child sex exploitation, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime.”
Police officers even dismissed the rape of children by saying that sex had been consensual.
Tuesday’s report concluded that by far the majority of perpetrators were Asian men.
According to the inquiry council officials were afraid to identify the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being labelled "racist" if they revealed the ethnicity of most of the abusers.
Downing Street on Tuesday night described the failure to halt the abuse in Rotherham as “appalling.”
A Number 10 spokesman said: “We are determined that the lessons of past failures must be learned and that those who have exploited these children are brought to justice.”
Following the publication of the report, Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone resigned. Stone, who has been the leader since 2003, said: "I believe it is only right that as leader I take responsibility for the historic failings described so clearly."
No other council employees will face disciplinary proceedings after it was claimed that there was not enough evidence to take action.
The focus on Rotherham followed the jailing of five Asian men in 2010 after they were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex. The five men groomed teenage girls and had sex with them in cars and parks in Rotherham.
Schools also started raising alerts over the years about children as young as 11 being picked up by taxis, given presents and mobile phones and taken to Rotherham and other towns.
Prof Jay said there had been "blatant" collective failures by the council's leadership, senior managers had "underplayed" the scale of the problem and South Yorkshire Police had failed to prioritize the issue.
She added: "The authorities involved have a great deal to answer for."
The inquiry team found that in the early 2000s, when a group of professionals tried to monitor a number of children believed to be at risk, "managers gave little help or support to their efforts" and that some people at a senior level in the police and children's social care thought the extent of the problem was being "exaggerated."
For years, the police failed to address the problem, dismissing many of the victims as “out of control” or as “undesirables” who were not worthy of police protection, according to the report.
It emerged that there had been three previous reports looking into the problem which had been suppressed or ignored by officials, either because they did not like or did not believe the findings.
Prof Jay said, "No one knows the true scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over the years. Our conservative estimate is that approximately 1,400 children were sexually exploited over the full inquiry period, from 1997 to 2013."
A victim of abuse in Rotherham, who has been called "Isabel" to protect her identity, told BBC Panorama: "I was a child and they should have stepped in. No matter what's done now... it's not going to change that it was too late, it should have been stopped and prevented."