Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal

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Widespread organised child sexual abuse took place in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, England, between 1997 and 2013. Local investigations into the abuse began in 1999, although some reports were never finalised or made public by the authorities.[1] In 2010, five men of Pakistani heritage were found guilty of a series of sexual offences against girls as young as twelve.[2] A subsequent investigation by The Times reported that the child sex exploitation was much more widespread, and the Home Affairs Select Committee criticised the South Yorkshire Police force and Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council for their handling of the abuse.

An independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in the town, led by Professor Alexis Jay, was established in 2013 for Rotherham Council.[3] The inquiry's initial report, published on 26 August 2014, condemned the failure of the authorities in Rotherham to act effectively against the abuse and even, in some cases, to acknowledge that it was taking place.[4][5][6] The report estimated that 1,400 children had been sexually abused in the town between 1997 and 2013, predominantly by gangs of British-Pakistani Muslim men.[7] Abuses described included abduction, rape, torture and sex trafficking of children.[6]

Members of the British-Pakistani Muslim community condemned both the sexual abuse and the fact that it had been covered up for fear of "giving oxygen" to racism.[8] The leader of Rotherham Borough Council, Roger Stone, resigned, as did the council's Chief Executive, Martin Kimber, and the director of children's services, Joyce Thacker. Shaun Wright, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for South Yorkshire who had been a Labour councillor in charge of child safety at the council, stood down on 16 September, after initially refusing demands that he should do so.[9] The Home Secretary, Theresa May, blamed the failure of the authorities in Rotherham on "institutionalised political correctness",[10] and Denis MacShane, the former MP for Rotherham during the period covered by the report, admitted that he had been "guilty of doing too little" to investigate the extent of the sex crimes being committed in his constituency.[11]

Independent inquiries were set up into the actions of both South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Borough Council, to examine their roles in investigating the allegations and their procedures and practices.[12][13] Further allegations of a cover-up, including the theft of documents from a council researcher's office, were made in a Home Affairs Select Committee report in October 2014.[14] In February 2015, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, announced that an independent report prepared by Louise Casey considered the council to be "not fit for purpose", and elected councillors would be replaced by a team of five commissioners, including one tasked specifically with looking at children's services.[15]

Background

In the early to mid 1990s, social workers came across examples of child sexual abuse, and amid concern about young people being trafficked through prostitution in Rotherham, a youth project, Risky Business, working with people between the ages of 11 and 25 was set up in 1997.[1] In 2002, a chapter of a draft Home Office report into child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham reported "high prevalence of young women being coerced and abused through prostitution". Senior officers at the council and the police objected to the report, suggesting that some facts were either exaggerated or made up and the report was never completed.[1][16] The draft report suggested that there were more than 270 victims of abuse, and a Home Office official who investigated the case later accused the council of being involved in the unauthorised removal of data on the case from her office.[17][18]

A report in 2003 by Dr Angie Heal, commissioned by South Yorkshire Police, found "significant number of girls and some boys who are being sexually exploited" in Rotherham. In 2005, a new department of children and young people’s services was created with Councillor Shaun Wright appointed cabinet member for the department. A report by Heal in 2006 described the situation as an "organised and established sexual exploitation scene".[1] In 2008, Operation Central was set up to investigate men thought to be involved in child sexual abuse.[16]

2010 trial

In 2010, eight men were tried at Sheffield Crown Court for a series of sexual offences against young girls. Five men were convicted and jailed in November 2010. They had fostered relationships with girls as young as twelve, and raped them in cars and parks.[19][20] Zafran Ramzan was convicted of rape and two charges of sexual activity with a child and sentenced to nine years imprisonment. Razwan Razaq, convicted of two charges of sexual activity with a child was sentenced to eleven years. Umar Razaq for sexual activity with a child was sentenced to 4.5 years, Adil Hussain and Mohsin Khan both for sexual activity with a child received 4 years.

The guilty men were told by the judge that, "the message must go out loud and clear that our society will not tolerate sexual predators preying on children."[19] Razwan Razaq who had a previous conviction for indecently assaulting a young girl in his car and had breached a previous sexual offences prevention order was given the longest sentence. All five men were placed on the sex offenders' register.[21]

The Times investigation

In September 2012, investigations by The Times based on confidential police and social services documents, found that abuse had been much more widespread than acknowledged.[22][23] It uncovered systematic abuse of white girls by some Asian men (mostly of Pakistani origin)[24] in Rotherham for which people were not being prosecuted.[25][26]

The newspaper cited a 2010 report by the police intelligence bureau which discussed "a problem with networks of Asian offenders both locally and nationally" which was "particularly stressed in Sheffield and even more so in Rotherham, where there appears to be a significant problem with networks of Asian males exploiting young white females".[23][26] It also referred to a document from the Rotherham Safeguarding Children Board that reported the "crimes had 'cultural characteristics...which are locally sensitive in terms of diversity'".[26]

South Yorkshire Police denied the accusations, saying that The Times was wrong and that to suggest the police was deliberately withholding information was "a gross distortion and unfair on the teams of dedicated specialists working to tackle the problem."[22]

Rotherham's former MP, Denis MacShane, criticised the police for concealing the extent of the abuse, saying "it is clear that the internal trafficking of barely pubescent girls is much more widespread and I regret that the police did not tell Yorkshire MPs about their inquiries."[22]

Lord Ahmed called for mosque leaders in South Yorkshire to highlight the problem of sexual abuse.[27] He said the issue was a "new phenomenon within the Asian community" and that "it's important that the community, rather than going silent... talk about it."[27] Muhbeen Hussain, founder of Rotherham Muslim Youth group, said all communities denounced the abuse and that "we need Muslim leaders to go out there and condemn this and make it clear it's wrong."[27] The chairman of the Pakistan and Muslim Centre in Sheffield, Mohammed Ali said the South Yorkshire mosques, the imams and the committee members had discussed this situation that "needs to be tackled."[27]

In November 2012, Rotherham Council identified 58 possible victims of sexual abuse.[28] The director of Children and Young People's Services attributed the rise from 50 the previous year to increased public awareness.[28] A national report by the Office of Children's Commissioner, also published in November, found that thousands of children were sexually abused by gangs in England each year.[28]

Home Affairs Select Committee

In October 2012, the Home Affairs Select Committee criticised South Yorkshire's chief constable, David Crompton, and one of its senior officers, Philip Etheridge, for their handling of child sex abuse.[23] The committee heard evidence that three members of a family connected with the abuse of 61 girls were not convicted, and an unconvicted 22-year-old man was found in a car with a 12-year-old girl with indecent images of her on his phone.[23] David Crompton said that "ethnic origin" was not a factor in deciding whether to charge suspects.[23] The committee said that they were very concerned, as was the public.[23]

In January 2013, the head of Rotherham Council, Martin Kimber, was summoned to the select committee to explain the lack of arrests for sexual abuse, despite South Yorkshire Police saying it was conducting several investigations and the council having identified 58 young girls at risk.[25] MP Keith Vaz questioned why, after five Asian men were jailed in 2010, more was not being done: "In Lancashire there were 100 prosecutions the year before last, in South Yorkshire there were no prosecutions". The council apologised for the "systemic failure" that had "let down" the victims of child sexual abuse.[25]

The select committee issued a report on 18 October 2014, that claimed that files containing information on alleged failings by the authorities to investigate abuse had been stolen from the office of a Rotherham Council researcher in 2002. The allegations were made in private hearings of the committee, which concluded that both the council and South Yorkshire Police had ignored evidence about the scale of the abuse. The chairman of the committee, Keith Vaz, said that "The proliferation of revelations about files which can no longer be located gives rise to public suspicion of a deliberate cover-up. The only way to address these concerns is with a full, transparent and urgent investigation.". The report also called for new legislation to allow the removal of elected Police and Crime Commissioners, following a vote of no confidence.[14]

Alexis Jay inquiry

In November 2013 Rotherham Council commissioned Professor Alexis Jay, a former chief social work adviser to the Scottish government, to lead an independent inquiry into the its handling of cases involving child exploitation since 1997.[3] Jay's initial report published on 26 August 2014 revealed that the number of children sexually exploited in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 was, by "conservative estimate", at least 1,400.[4] According to the report, children as young as eleven were "raped by multiple perpetrators, abducted, trafficked to other cities in England, beaten and intimidated." Three previous inquiries—in 2002, 2003 and 2006[29]—had presented similar findings but, according to the report, had been "effectively suppressed" because officials "did not believe the data".[5] Dr Angie Heal, a strategic drugs analyst who had prepared the 2003 report, had noted three years after its publication—according to Professor Jay—that "the appeal of organised sexual exploitation for Asian gangs had changed. In the past, it had been for their personal gratification, whereas now it offered 'career and financial opportunities to young Asian men who got involved'."[8]

Abuses described by the report included abduction, rape and sex trafficking of children.[6] The inquiry team 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".[5] The report revealed that "one child who was being prepared to give evidence received a text saying the perpetrator had her younger sister and the choice of what happened next was up to her. She withdrew her statements. At least two other families were terrorised by groups of perpetrators, sitting in cars outside the family home, smashing windows, making abusive and threatening phone calls. On some occasions child victims went back to perpetrators in the belief that this was the only way their parents and other children in the family would be safe. In the most extreme cases, no one in the family believed that the authorities could protect them."[4] The report highlighted the role of taxi drivers in the town in facilitating the abuse.[30]

Because most of the perpetrators were of Pakistani heritage, several council staff described themselves as being nervous about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others, the report noted, "remembered clear direction from their managers" not to make such identification.[31] One Home Office researcher, attempting to raise concerns about the level of abuse with senior police officers in 2002, was told not to do so again, and was subsequently suspended and sidelined.[32] The researcher told BBC Panorama that:

... she had been accused of being insensitive when she told one official that most of the perpetrators were from Rotherham's Pakistani community. A female colleague talked to her about the incident. "She said you must never refer to that again – you must never refer to Asian men." "And her other response was to book me on a two-day ethnicity and diversity course to raise my awareness of ethnic issues."[17]

The report noted that the police showed lack of respect for the victims, who were deemed "undesirables".[32]

Jayne Senior, a former youth town worker,[33] was reported to have worked for more than a decade to expose rampant child sexual abuse in Rotherham, but she was met with "indifference and scorn."[34][35]

Reactions

Members of the British-Pakistani community condemned the sexual abuses and the cover-up by authorities out of fear of "giving oxygen" to racism.[8] Denis MacShane, MP for Rotherham between 1994 and his resignation in 2012, said in a BBC radio interview that no-one had come to him with child abuse allegations during that period, but conceded he should have been more involved in the issue. Admitting he had been guilty of doing too little, he said he had been aware of what he saw as the problems of cousin marriage and the oppression of women within sectors of the Muslim community in Britain, but "as a true Guardian reader, and liberal leftie, I suppose I didn't want to raise that too hard. I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat if I may put it like that." However, in hindsight, he did say that "I think that I should have burrowed into [the allegations]".[11]

Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale where similar cases were prosecuted, observed that "a very small minority of people in the Asian community have a very unhealthy view of women. ... It's a complex jigsaw, and ethnicity is just one of the pieces. Class is a major factor, night-time economy is a factor, in terms of this type of on-street grooming, not sexual abuse per se."[36] Danczuk added that there was an "unhealthy brand of politics 'imported' from Pakistan" which was "partly to blame for the cover-up of mass child abuse in Rotherham". He said that "There are cultural issues around the way politics are done in the Asian community which have to change."[37] Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service's lead on child sexual abuse, himself a Muslim, said the abuse had no basis in Islam: "Islam says that alcohol, drugs, rape and abuse are all forbidden, yet these men were surrounded by all of these things." He also claimed, "Where you have Pakistani men, Asian men, disproportionately employed in the night-time economy, they are going to be more involved in this kind of activity than perhaps white men are."[38] His theory was criticised by the incoming director of children's services in Rotherham, Ian Thomas, who said that the "night-time economy is full of white blokes. Ninety-two percent of the people in Rotherham are white. ... I’m fronting it, no matter who you are. I'm a black guy. If blacks do it, I’m fronting it. If whites are doing it, I’m dealing with it. If Asians are doing it, I'm dealing with it."[39]

Following the report's publication, council leader, Roger Stone of the Labour Party, resigned — an act of contrition the report said should have been made years earlier[32] – saying he would take full responsibility for "the historic failings described so clearly in the report".[5][31] Councillors Gwendoline Russell, Shaukat Ali and former Council Leader Roger Stone were suspended from the Labour Party, as was former Deputy Council Leader Jahangir Akhtar, who had lost his council seat in 2014.[40] Chief Executive, Martin Kimber, said no council officers would face disciplinary action.[31] Kimber announced on 8 September that he intended to step down in December 2014, and offered his "sincere apology to those who were let down".[41] The council's director of children's services, Joyce Thacker, also left the authority by mutual agreement.[42] Malcolm Newsam was appointed as Children's Social Care Commissioner in October 2014,[43] and subsequently Ian Thomas was appointed as interim director of children's services.[39]

Shaun Wright, the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for South Yorkshire from 2012, was the Labour councillor in charge of child safety at the council for five years from 2005-10.[44] He refused demands from the Home Secretary, Theresa May to resign as PCC.[36] He also refused demands from members of his own party and local Labour MP Sarah Champion, saying: "I believe I am the most appropriate person to hold this office at this current time."[45] He resigned from the Labour Party on 27 August 2014,[46] after an ultimatum by the party to either resign or face suspension from the party.[47] Wright stood down as PCC on 16 September, saying that the prominence given to his role distracted from "the important issue, which should be everybody's focus—the 1,400 victims outlined in the report—and in providing support to victims and bringing to justice the criminals responsible for the atrocious crimes committed against them."[48]

Theresa May described the failures of police and council agencies to deal with child sex abuse as a complete dereliction of duty. She said that "institutionalised political correctness" had contributed to the authorities turning a blind eye to the abuse: "I am clear that cultural concerns – both the fear of being seen as racist, and the frankly disdainful attitude to some of our most vulnerable children – must never stand in the way of child protection. We know that child sexual exploitation happens in all communities. There is no excuse for it in any of them."[10]

Far-right groups including Britain First[49] and the English Defence League staged protests in Rotherham over the abuse, and a counter-demonstration against the latter was held by Unite Against Fascism.[50]

The Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton, said on 2 September that an independent report had been commissioned to "examine the role of both the police and council ... and address any wrongdoings or failings," led by a different police force.[12] The former Chief Constable, Meredydd Hughes, who served from 2004 to 2011 and who had unsuccessfully stood for the Labour Party nomination in the Police Crime Commissioner elections, was told by Labour MP Keith Vaz that he had 'failed' abuse victims.[51]

In October 2015, the Muslim Community of Rotherham ordered a boycott of South Yorkshire Police and, in turn, of any Muslim organisation which did not support a boycott, on the allegation that the police were deflecting blame for their own responsibilities onto their community as a whole. Chief Superintendent Jason Harwin called the boycott "disappointing", stating that the police regularly attempted to listen to the concerns of Muslims.[52] The Hindu Council UK and the Sikh Federation criticised media and government for referring to the criminal gangs involved as "Asian", claiming that political correctness is preventing them being described as "Pakistani Muslims".[53]

Louise Casey investigation and subsequent actions

On 10 September 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, announced that an independent investigation would be held into whether Rotherham Council covered up information about the abuse. The investigation, led by Louise Casey, Director-General of the government's Troubled Families programme, examined the council's governance, services for children and young people and taxi and private hire licensing. Pickles said that "the rare step of a statutory inspection is in the public interest... We cannot undo the permanent harm that these children have suffered. But we can and should take steps to ensure that this never happens again and make sure that all local authorities deliver on their essential duty to protect vulnerable children."[13]

Casey's investigation found that the child sexual exploitation (CSE) team was poorly directed, suffered from excessive case loads, and did not share information. Following the report's publication on 4 February 2015, Pickles stated that the local authority was "not fit for purpose", and announced proposals to remove its control from the councillors and give it to a team of five appointed commissioners, including one tasked specifically with looking at children's services. After the report's publication, files relating to a current councillor and a past councillor identifying "a number of potentially criminal matters" were passed to the National Crime Agency. The leader of the council, Paul Lakin, resigned, and members of the council cabinet also stood down.[15]

On 16 February 2015 Labour Party leader Ed Miliband said that the Casey report was "deeply troubling", and that the leadership would "learn the lessons" of the scandal. He said he was "deeply sorry for what happened in Rotherham and we are determined to have a fresh start, a fresh start in terms of the people of Rotherham most of all. The Labour Party did let people down in Rotherham, absolutely."[54]

Arrests and trials 2015-2016

Several suspects were arrested in 2015 for crimes in Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal.[55][56] It was reported in June 2015 that about 300 suspects had been identified.[57]

On 24 February 2016, four men including three brothers and their uncle, were found guilty of systematic sexual abuse of teenage girls in the town. Arshid and Basharat Hussain were convicted of multiple rapes and indecent assaults. Bannaras Hussain had confessed to ten charges including indecent assault and rape before the trial began. Their uncle, Qurban Ali, 53, was convicted of conspiracy to rape and two white women,[58][59] Shelley Davies and Karen MacGregor were found guilty of false imprisonment and conspiracy to procure prostitutes.[60]

See also

References

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