Jayne Senior is a whistleblower hero, but do not take my word for it; look at the award given to her by the United Kingdom in 2016: Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). All whistleblowers are heroes and deserve high honors from their government, yet it is exceedingly rare.
Senior was born in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England, to a father who was a pilot in World War II and a mother who met her husband while working as a nurse in the British army. Senior lost her mother to a heart attack when she was seventeen, and fifteen years later, her father died of emphysema. Senior subsequently lost her brother and sister to cancer. These devastating losses later helped as she fought against the health service in England.
“When you face death so close, and then you realize you got to get justice, then when you see wrongdoing, you can’t just turn your back on it. Because I was brought up with morals, I was brought up not to lie, I was brought up to tell the truth, and I had very good, honest parents who cared about us. My life all the way from four or five years old was about kindness and caring and doing the right thing. And caring for others,” Senior said.
Senior stated she was a “middle achiever” in school, could have done better, and left school at sixteen. At seventeen, Senior found out she was pregnant the year she lost her mother. In 1987, Senior got married and, a year later, had a second child. She started volunteering at a youth club and found the work enjoyable. She was offered a job with pay and managed a girls’ group. In 1999, she accepted a job to manage a program named “Risky Business.” In that position, Senior served as a “detached youth worker,” meeting girls or young women involved in prostitution in the community.
Senior was “not comfortable from day one in putting ‘child’ in the same sentence as ‘prostitution’ because it intimated that there was consent.” Senior started referring to children as “sexually exploited” instead of participants. Initially, no policy, procedures, or legislation existed, and children were charged as common prostitutes.
Senior gained the trust of children on the streets who were being sexually exploited and began hearing horrifying stories. Children were being “gang raped, trafficked, petrol was poured on them, the stories were horrendous.” Each month, she would attend meetings with the police and senior staff in many social welfare organizations, providing them with information in reports.
Senior was the Risky Business project manager and shared information but was told children were “consenting” because they willingly returned to their abusers. She was also told, “Children made poor witnesses and must be lying because their stories were unbelievable.” Senior continually advised her management team, police, welfare agencies, elected members, and magistrates about child exploitation, but they took no action.
Rotherham Council senior manager approached Senior in 2011 and requested her to write a report detailing the concerns she had raised, the number of children she engaged, and the names of the perpetrators provided. Senior spent hours working on the report, hoping they would take action. She sent in 42 pages of intelligence, and shortly after, senior Council managers responded by shutting down her program.
They told her they terminated the program because her records were “rubbish.” She was advised the Risky Business records (66,000 documents) were locked up and that the program had breached the “human rights of the perpetrators.” The head of the Council, in partnership with the police, was behind the shutdown, and one reason provided to Senior was that she “was rocking the multicultural boat.”
Many of the perpetrators were of Pakistani heritage and other Muslim countries. The Council told her that if the report got out, it would ignite racial tensions as the victims happened to be primarily white. In 2013, the Council told Senior that there was “no money to investigate, no resources, no staff” and every other “reason under the sun” not to investigate child exploitation cases.
Senior is clear on the point that sexual predators come from all races and backgrounds. For example, Sir James Savile OBE was a white male who had hundreds of allegations of sexual abuse made against him after his death. Savile was a prolific sex offender and, while alive, had accusations dismissed and accusers ignored or disbelieved.
Senior moved to a new area of social care, where she was instructed not to write any reports or gather any further intelligence data on exploitation matters. Senior had written a report on a family situation involving serious child exploitation a year earlier. The report was brought to her to review later, with all matters of sexual abuse removed. Senior decided she could not continue her job and left in 2012, moving to another charity in Rotherham.
Senior had “no idea” what a whistleblower was and did not realize she was a whistleblower. However, she felt compelled to bring the information to light, finally contacting The Times and meeting with Andrew Norfolk, who had reported previously on child exploitation in the UK. Norfolk told Senior he believed her story but could not print it because “the public would not believe or accept it.” Senior then provided the reporter with hard evidence, and The Times began publishing stories concerning child exploitation in Rotherham. The reporter referred to Senior as “Deep Throat,” but Senior had no idea what the term meant initially.
The Rotherham Council was furious over the leak and suspected Senior but had no evidence. The Council commissioned Professor Alexis Jay in 2013 to complete an independent review of the stories published in the newspaper. It noted that the whistleblower responsible for the review was facing three to five years in prison for sharing confidential information.
In August 2014, the official Council report by Jay was published titled “Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham.” It set off a “firestorm” but hid Senior’s identity as a whistleblower. Jay found that children as young as eleven were raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities in England, beaten and intimidated. The inquiry noted that council members feared being labeled “racist” if they focused on victims’ descriptions of most abusers.
Jay noted “blatant” collective failures by the Council’s leadership, senior managers had “underplayed” the scale of the problem, and South Yorkshire Police failed to prioritize the issue. He also noted that the victim figure of 1,400 was a conservative estimate and that the police regarded the child victims with contempt, children who had been terribly abused.
Rotherham became known in newspapers as the “worst child protection in the world.” The headlines noted that 1,400 children were abused. However, Senior stated it was closer to 2,000 children, with the total number not known.
Senior was slated to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) in London (a departmental committee of the House of Commons in the Parliament of the United Kingdom), but prior, “a very senior person” in the Rotherham Council asked to meet with Senior and inquired about the stolen files on sexual predators. Senior was then advised, “It would be such a shame if giving evidence on such a big case caused everybody to pull funding from your (current) charity.”
In October 2014, Senior appeared before HASC, who asked her to wait to speak to anyone until they had a chance to put people under oath. By the time Senior had arrived home on a train, the story was all over the media. The government appointed Dame Louise Casey to contact Senior and investigate her claims. In 2015, the government published its report, and the Rotherham Council was “shut down.” Government-appointed commissioners replaced the councilors, and it initiated criminal inquiries.
Senior went public, outing herself as the Rotherham sexual abuse whistleblower. In 2016, Senior decided to become “part of the solution rather than part of the problem” and ran for the Rotherham Council, which she won. Shortly afterward, the Council notified Senior she was under investigation and had been for five years. The Council piled accusation upon accusation and raided her charity, with Senior discovering no whistleblower protections existed.
In 2017, the National Crime Agency (media calls the agency the “British FBI”) interviewed Senior and noted her memory of Rotherham’s sexual abuse was like a “computer.” She helped reveal a pattern of exploitation that saw massive numbers of children and young people groomed, gang raped and tortured by groups of men. Senior continues to work with the National Crime Agency to this day.
In 2019, Senior was harassed and intimidated by sexual predators in Rotherham and her local police department because of her whistleblowing. Police officers and their management had done little to nothing in investigating sexual exploitation cases. Senior discovered that complaints taken to the police had been ignored or forgotten, with the police officers suffering no consequences. Officers had been promoted and allowed to retire with their pensions.
Senior found that serving police officers, retired officers, or those who have worked for the police are immune from complaints. “Untouchable” is how Senior found the situation, and she filed a complaint with the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC), composed of retired police officers. They turned down her complaints and warned her that if she continued making them, she would be considered a vexatious complainant and subject to two years of incarceration.
Senior notes that two thousand children were victimized, and no one was held responsible for allowing it. Reputational damage to the Rotherham Council was the most important thing to members of the Council, more important than abused children. Senior continued her complaints about the police and their inaction and was finally advised in November 2021 that her complaints regarding police officers had been upheld.
For fourteen years, Senior tried to help girls and boys from Rotherham who had been groomed, raped, tortured, pimped, and threatened by violence by sex traffickers. She heard heartbreaking stories and passed the information on to authorities, believing they would do something. She lost hope but persevered, risking prison and pressure from her community, politicians, and police to stop. She was threatened with jail and endured public scorn, all for the children of Rotherham. The story rocked England, but a hero was born. Jayne Senior, for God and the Empire.
- Senior graduated from Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, England, with a law degree.
- Senior won the Woman of the Year Award in 2016.
- Senior has been a member of Whistleblowers UK since 2018, with the title Safeguarding Director.
- Rotherham abuse scandal: Key dates
- Senior, in 2016, wrote “Broken and Betrayed: The True Story of the Rotherham Abuse Scandal.“