Rocked by revelations that local authorities ignored up to 1,400 sexual abuse cases, Rotherham is now the darkest corner of England.

Swapping cigarettes and chewing gum, the teenage girls outside Rotherham’s Centenary Indoor Market are not engrossed in the conversations students should be having on the first day of term.

Instead of timetables and summer gossip, theirs is a new school year dominated by revelations that as many as 1,400 children in this northern English town were sexually abused by gangs of predominantly Asian men over a 16-year period.

An independent report released on Aug 26 exposed the scale and graphic nature of the crimes and raised difficult questions about whether timidity about confronting the racial aspects of the abuse had prompted authorities to turn a blind eye.

Some of the victims, mainly white girls in social care homes, were as young as 11 and were plied with drugs and alcohol before being trafficked to cities across northern England and gang-raped by groups of men, predominately of Pakistani heritage, says the report.