A RIBBLE Valley mother has launched and online petition for one of the key figures in exposing the Rochdale sexual grooming scandal to be recognised.

Sara Rowbotham, was an NHS sexual health worker, whose efforts to expose the sexual abuse of teenage girls in the town between 2008 and 2010 were vital in securing the subsequent convictions.

He role was featured in the BBC TV drama ‘Three Girls’ where she was played by award-winning actress Maxine Peake.

After seeing the programme and learning that Ms Rowbotham lost her job and was not recognised for her work exposing the scandal, Clitheroe mum-of-six Katei Blezard was so angry she decided to act.

She started the petition on Change.org which needs 200,000 signatures to be debated in Parliament, calling for official recognition of Ms Rowbotham’s role in the conviction of nine abusers in 2012.

Ms Rowbotham, now a Rochdale councillor, was made redundant in 2014 by the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust in a reorganisation which created the police, NHS and council ‘Sunrise’ team to tackle gang sexual abuse.

Now backed by 151,293 people, the petition reads: “Sara the Sexual Health Worker was fundamental in collecting evidence involving the Rochdale grooming gangs.

"The evidence she collected, along with statements from the brave survivors of the abuse, was dismissed time and time again.

“Sara was later made redundant from her post.

“Sara and her team should be applauded by the Government.

“Sara and her team should be the highest advocates for future national guidance surrounding the grooming of children.”

Miss Blezard said: “When I saw the programme and what she did and then found she had been made redundant, I was so angry.

“This woman deserves to be honoured and given a leading role in tackling this sort of abuse nationally.”

A spokesperson at the Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, which employed Ms Rowbotham and her team, said: “In 2013, the Sunrise team was established to take the lead responsibility for dealing with child sexual exploitation across the Rochdale borough, meaning that the work previously carried out by the crisis intervention team was now being undertaken by Sunrise.

“The Rochdale sexual health service, which included the crisis intervention team, was subject to a redesign in early 2014 and roles were subject to redundancy.”

Rochdale Council chief executive Steve Rumbelow said: “There has been a fundamental change in attitudes from the top to the bottom of the town hall.”

Ms Rowbotham was a unavailable for comment but has told the BBC that it had been a 'frustrating and incredibly difficult' time.

Greater Manchester Police and the Crown Prosecution Service declined to comment.