Child abuse victims in a northern English town have launched claims for compensation, lawyers said on Wednesday, as outrage grew in Britain that officials failed to stop 16 years of abuse earlier.
Fifteen girls abused by gangs of men in Rotherham - a declining steel and coal town with higher than average unemployment - between 1997 and 2013 are reportedly claiming up to £100 000 each.
A report out on Tuesday estimated that 1 400 children in the 250 000-population town had been sexually exploited.
The South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright, who was the local council member in charge of children's services during some of the time when the abuse took pace, resigned from the Labour party over the scandal.
But Wright insisted he would not leave his current post as regional police chief despite senior calls for him to go amid shock over the extent of the abuse.
Some victims were doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone, according to the report.
The estimated figure was extrapolated from a random sample of 38 children who were known to the social services and police because of past difficulties, plus a range of other case files and reports.
The head of the local council, Roger Stone, resigned immediately after the publication of the report which detailed “blatant” failures, including officials ignoring numerous reports of exploitation or blaming the victims.
Police chief Wright defended his record in public service and said that while he took “full responsibility for my part in the collective failures”, he would not resign.
“Much progress has been made since I was elected as commissioner in terms of supporting victims, taking preventive action, increasing awareness of the issue and bringing criminals to justice,” Wright said in a statement.
“I was elected to deliver the people's policing and crime priorities in South Yorkshire and I intend to see that duty through.”
The statement came after the Home Secretary Theresa May said he should step down, piling on pressure for him to quit.
No council officers are facing disciplinary action over what happened.
David Greenwood of Switalskis Solicitors, who is acting for the 15 victims, said they were seeking compensation because local officials and police did not act to stop the abuse sooner.
“Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police missed clear opportunities to prevent the sexual exploitation of dozens of girls in Rotherham,” he said.
Five men were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex in Rotherham in 2010.
The report said that “the majority of known perpetrators” were of Pakistani origin, including those convicted in 2010, but stressed there was “no simple link between race and child sexual exploitation”. - Sapa-AFP