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Operation Stovewood is the National Crime Agency’s inquiry into child sexual exploitation and abuse in Rotherham.

It is the largest and most complex investigation of its kind ever undertaken in the UK. As lines of enquiry continue to grow, the team is recruiting experienced, dedicated officers. You could be one of them.

It’s believed at least 1,400 people were subjected to non-familial sexual exploitation or abuse in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

Many of the victims were ignored by authorities and opportunities to safeguard them and bring their attackers to justice were missed.

The small number of offenders who were prosecuted showed little remorse for their crimes.

An official report, published in 2014 by Professor Alexis Jay, said the figure of 1,400 victims was a “conservative estimate”.

Offending on such a scale, with all the safeguarding challenges it represents, has required an unprecedented response by law enforcement as it seeks to right the wrongs of the past.

Following publication of the Alexis Jay report, the NCA accepted a request from David Crompton, then-Chief Constable of South Yorkshire police, to open a special investigation covering the entire period.

Given the name Operation Stovewood, it is the largest and most complex investigation of its kind ever undertaken in the UK.

Paul Williamson, senior investigating officer, said: “The challenges are huge. But it’s without doubt some of the most rewarding work I’ve done in my career in law enforcement.

“We need more people to join us so we can do more and do it more quickly.”

The NCA has made a commitment that the safety and security of the victims of abuse will be at the heart of the investigation.

“From day one our number one priority has been victim focus. That will never change,” said Mr Williamson.

The investigation’s other goals, he said, “are to identify and bring to justice offenders and to rebuild public confidence in the town of Rotherham”.

As NCA officers pore over police records and local authority documents, they are unearthing new lines of enquiry.

These lead to new arrests as officers identify suspects and find the fresh evidence needed to bring them to justice. The workload is growing and the team needs more good officers.

Work with survivors’ groups is bearing fruit as victims gain the courage to come forward. Kate Richardson, Stovewood’s victims manager, said: “We’ve got more than 150 victims and survivors currently designated within  the operation.

“It is a sign of trust and confidence but I don’t think we can be complacent about the way we treat our survivors which will always be with respect.”

The number of crimes and suspects is growing all the time. “Our investigations take many months to complete in a professional manner,” said Mr Williamson.

“It’s important to stress that in the time it takes us to do that investigation we do not miss any opportunity to disrupt a suspect’s activity.”

David Dickie, operations manager, said: “Not only are we putting together very careful detailed prosecution files, we’re also recovering a number of years of abuse and putting things right for the victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.”

The Stovewood staff includes many former or seconded police officers. They fill varied roles including victims interviewers, suspect interviewers, investigators, analysts and Holmes specialist staff.

They are experienced, skilled and committed officers. More are needed to support the investigation as it grows.

Jo Poole joined Operation Stovewood in January on secondment from North Yorkshire police. She spent the previous two years seconded to Operation Hydrant, the Norfolk Police-led national investigation into non-recent child abuse by persons of national prominence or in institutions.

An officer with 22 years’ policing experience, 13 of them as a detective, she said: “We’ve got a team with a vast amount of experienced people from policing backgrounds.

“Some are retired officers who bring a wealth of experience with them. It’s a mixed team. When you put it all together it’s invaluable.”

Mrs Poole said her work on Stovewood has presented different challenges to her previous job. “It’s a real balancing act doing it at a pace survivors are comfortable with,” she said.

“We need to do this at their pace to keep them on board. Without them we haven’t got a case.”

Mrs Poole said there are  difference between working at the NCA and the police are small but significant. “It’s a first-name organisation, no Sir or Ma’am,” she said.

She added: “The work is led by intelligence and can be more measured. You’re spinning as many plates but in a different way. As we’re dealing with non-recent offences you have a little longer to plan arrests and you can really get your teeth in to the investigation.”

But there are important continuities. “I’ve retained my police federation membership and carried on paying into my police pension,” she said.

Police officers on secondment must give up their police powers but these are replaced by the warrant powers given to NCA officers.

Mr Dickie said: “We just want more good, dedicated people. There are lots of them out there in police forces all over the country, many of whom have been in the same force for a little while and might be looking for something new.

“This isn’t just new, it’s unique. For anyone looking for a new challenge in a vital role, this is it.”

The team employs creative and innovative tactics to protect victims while they build cases against offenders.

In a recent example, close cooperation with the probation service saw a suspect recalled to prison, minimising the risk to vulnerable children in Rotherham while the NCA continued its enquiries.

While the challenges they face are great, the officers working on Stovewood know they’re involved in some of the most important law enforcement work ever to take place in the UK. They’re trying to restore justice to a whole community.

The 104 officers in post have identified 54 suspects and are engaging with 176 victims and survivors. They have arrested, interviewed and bailed 15 men pending further inquiries.

Mr Williamson said: “We take a lot of pride in supporting the investigation to bring serious offenders to justice. The job satisfaction and rewards of working on behalf of victims and survivors are unbeatable.”

Mr Williamson’s team has conducted arrests, searched houses and seized evidence but he said he wants to “pursue more activity at greater speed”.

Officers seeking a new professional challenge, with the commitment and dedication necessary to serve the victims of Rotherham, will be welcome.

It’s a team that has to be agile, committed and diverse. Hilary Clarkson, resources and logistics manager at the NCA, said: “We have to come at this investigation from every possible angle, to see it through a range of lenses.”

She added: “It’s not that a particular type of person always understands another similar person better than anyone else could.

“It’s that when you face a challenge as complex and as difficult as this one you need people to look at it from all possible angles, different backgrounds, temperaments, different types of policing experience.”

The ideal team member could be “anyone at all,” she said. “As long as they’re experienced, tenacious and determined to do right by the victims.

“It’s an opportunity for anyone who wants to work hard and deliver justice to come and get stuck in.”

If you’re interested in joining the NCA’s Operation Stovewood team, please send an email and covering letter outlining your experience to  stovewood.oioc@nca.x.gsi.gov.uk 

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