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UK crime agency: 300 possible suspects in child sex abuse scandal in northern English town

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LONDON — British crime experts say some 300 suspects have been identified in a wide-ranging inquiry into industrial-scale child sex abuse in the northern city of Rotherham.

The National Crime Agency said Wednesday that earlier reports saying roughly 1,400 children had been abused in the city between the years of 1997 and 2013 appear accurate. The magnitude of the abuse shocked Britain when it was first reported in August.

Municipal authorities in the city of 250,000 are accused of turning a blind eye to the reports of young girls who said they had been abused at the hands of largely Pakistani gangs. Officials say the girls, many who lived in government-paid care homes, were not believed or taken seriously when they complained about being raped and trafficked. Some were seen as troublemakers for reporting sex abuse.

Steve Baldwin, the crime agency's senior investigating officer, said the police inquiry supports earlier claims about the number of children who were targeted. The crime agency also confirmed that two of the suspects have served on the city council.

"The abuse that has taken place in Rotherham is horrific," he said. "We have gathered a huge amount of information which details some very disturbing events."

He said investigators will make a high priority of building cases against "suspects who may continue to pose any risk of harm today and those who have caused most harm in the past."

The inquiry is likely to lead to numerous criminal charges in future years.

Baldwin said investigators are now trying to win the community's trust so more victims will come forward. He said it's likely that investigators will eventually document "thousands" of offenses in an inquiry that is expected to take several years.

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