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Don’t let politics obscure the horrors of grooming gangs

Just because a Tory said it doesn’t mean it’s not true

Artillery Row

Last week, Sarah Champion MP for Rotherham wrote a series of tweets in response to both Tory leadership hopefuls discussing how they would seek to deal with Britain’s “grooming gangs” scandal. Rishi Sunak has vowed to launch a “major crackdown” and blamed “political correctness” for the failure to tackle this tragedy. At a live GB News audience in Leigh, a member of the audience asked Liz Truss what her plans are to confront the perpetrators of these heinous crimes to which she replied: “It is absolutely repulsive … I want the people held to account. The council officers, the councillors and the police who didn’t do anything about it.”

Seeking justice for thousands of survivors doesn’t mean a lack of interest elsewhere

Some welcome promises you might think — especially considering in Champion’s constituency alone more than 1,400 children are estimated to have been sexually exploited across a 16-year time span. Instead, Champion chose to slam the Conservative contributions as “disgusting and immoral”. She wrote: “Truss and Sunak have now decided to use grooming gangs as a political wedge in their increasing desperate leadership bids. I’ve tried to keep quiet — but it feels complicit not to say something.” During the course of the evening she continued, asking: “Why focus on grooming gangs rather than preventing all forms of child abuse? I can only assume [Truss and Sunak] are using it for political gain, playing to a perceived audience … ” She also offered some words of wisdom: “Truss and Sunak fail to grasp that to prevent child abuse we don’t need more laws and stronger sentences, we need more resources for the police, social services, NHS and education … ” and “Truss has implemented over £1billion cuts in aid support to women and girls around the world.”

This alarming commitment to obfuscation should not come as a surprise. It is the thread which binds a dizzying amount of towns and cities. But Champion has been viewed, understandably, as a shining light in a landscape filled with spineless civil servants and politicians. In August 2017 she wrote an article for The Sun which began: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting White girls. There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?” 

Five days later she issued an apology citing her “extremely poor choice of words” and resigned as shadow secretary of state for women and equalities, saying it “would distract from the crucial issues around child protection which I have campaigned on my entire political career”. During that time, Naz Shah MP liked and retweeted a Twitter post telling sex abuse victims of the Rotherham scandal to “shut their mouths for the good of diversity” but later deleted her retweet and unliked the post calling it a “genuine accident”. Shah also attacked Champion’s article accusing her of making “blanket, racialized, loaded statements” and branded her colleague “irresponsible”. 

It is disturbing that a decade after Andrew Norfolk’s groundbreaking story hit the headlines, politicians are still actively attempting to avoid the biggest scandal in early 21st century Britain. Why must we focus on grooming scandals and not include every single act of child abuse, Champion asks. Well, should we have shunned the Boston Globe’s expose into the Catholic Church because it didn’t include Pentecostals? Of course not. Seeking justice for the many thousands of survivors who have been involved in this horrific ordeal doesn’t mean a lack of interest elsewhere. We simply demand answers and long overdue accountability. The timidity has to end. 

Champion and her Labour colleagues should put political differences to one side and accept that both Truss and Sunak are raising valid points. The only person guilty of driving a “political wedge” is, in fact, people like her. It is deeply offensive and infantile to distrust their concerns based on the fact that they are Tories. Unless of course, this is a desperate attempt to get back into lefty good books — but in that case Champion may have to go a little further to sufficiently please them. Perhaps calling it a “far-right conspiracy”?

It is worth remembering the facts of the Rotherham case (one among many, including those of Oldham, Telford, Oxford et cetera). The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigated 265 different allegations made by 51 complainants. Eventually, 47 officers were investigated. The IOPC concluded that eight had a case to answer for misconduct and six had a case to answer for gross misconduct. The most severe sanction, ultimately, was a written warning. 

Two of the rapists were recently reported back on the streets

One parent claimed to have been told by an officer investigating the rape of his 15-year-old daughter in a Rotherham park that the event should have taught her a “lesson”. Astonishingly, a criminal handed over a missing girl to the police as part of a “deal” not to arrest him. But apparently, the answer to solving grooming gangs is giving more resources to the very institutions which have miserably failed the victims. Not stronger sentences for the vile rapists — two of whom were recently reported to be back on the streets after serving just half of their ten year terms. 

An independent inquiry led by Professor Alexis Jay in 2014 detailed how girls in Rotherham as young as eleven had suffered some of the most horrific abuse imaginable by men of predominantly Pakistani heritage. The inquiry discovered cases of “children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight”. Much of the failure of authorities to protect these girls had to do with scorn towards perceived low status of the victims. But Jay observed: “Several [council] staff described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought as racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.” 

A year after Jay’s harrowing findings, a Report of Inspection of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council in 2015 found that misplaced “political correctness” had cemented the council’s failures and that it was very much still in denial about the full scale of the horror. In fact, 70 per cent of the councillors (including those in the cabinet) disputed Jay’s findings. One councillor stated: “I struggle to accept the number [of girls found to have been abused] but I’m not a mathematician.”

You can throw all the money in the world at these inquiries but no good will ever come from them until we accept that a sickness engulfed our politics, police and media — keeping many chapters of this story hidden. Patience for statements like Champion’s has worn thin.

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