Authorities in England failed to prevent the physical and sexual abuse of 1,400 children in one town over a 16-year period, an independent inquiry has concluded in a damning report.

The report, released on Tuesday, said police and child services in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, failed to protect children as young as 11 from being beaten, raped and trafficked between 1997 and 2013.

Report author Alexis Jay cited 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."

The leader of the town's council, Roger Stone, a Labour councillor, resigned within hours of the report's release.

Jay said abuse was not considered a priority by South Yorkshire Police, while managers in child protection services also failed to act. 

"The collective failures ... were blatant," the report said. "From the beginning there was growing evidence that child sex exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham, which came from people working in residential care and from youth workers who knew the young people well."

She said there were "suggestions of a cover-up as three reports given to police and Rotherham Council in 2002, 2003 and 2013, which linked child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality ... were effectively suppressed."

The majority of the perpetrators were of Pakistani heritage, the report said. Because of this, "frontline staff appeared to be confused as to what they were supposed to say and do and what would be interpreted as racist."

Jay said there was "too much reliance on traditional community leaders as being the primary link to the Pakistani-heritage community".

This "left several Pakistani-heritage women disenfranchised, who said they thought it would provide a barrier to people coming forward to talk about the problem."

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies