A COUNCIL leader has stepped down with immediate effect after a damning report which found around 1,400 children were sexually exploited over a 16-year period.

Roger Stone, the leader of Rotherham council, accepted responsibility on behalf of failings detailed by Professor Alexis Jay, the former chief inspector of social work in Scotland who was commissioned to conduct an inquiry into the sexual grooming of children in the council's care.

The report on events in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, between 1997 and 2013, found that in more than a third of these cases the youngsters were already known to agencies. It said there had been "blatant" collective failures by the council's leadership.

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Professor Jay said she 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.

"They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated."

She said she found that girls as young as 11 had been raped by large numbers of men.

The report said failures of the leadership of Rotherham Council over the first 12 years she looked at were "blatant" as the seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers and was not acted on by South Yorkshire Police.

Prof Jay said police "regarded many child victims with contempt."

The report said: "By far the majority of perpetrators were described as 'Asian' by victims." But, she said, "several staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist".