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20.10.14

MPs call for investigation into Rotherham child abuse cover-up

MPs are calling for an “urgent” investigation into whether public officials sought to cover up the Rotherham child abuse scandal, after a researcher claimed files set to be passed to the Home Office were stolen from her office.

The Home Affairs Select Committee released its second report into the Rotherham scandal, where in August an independent inquiry revealed that at least 1,400 children in the Rotherham area had been sexually abused over a 16-year period, and that the council knew about it since 2005 but failed to act.

The Home Affairs Select Committee heard private evidence from a researcher employed by Rotherham council who was looking into ways of catching men who try to lure young girls and vulnerable women into prostitution.

In a report that was about to be sent to the Home Office she referred to the “alleged indifference towards, and ignorance of, child sexual exploitation on the part of senior managers”, the committee said.

“The researcher told us that an unknown individual subsequently gained access to her office and removed all of the data relating to the Home Office work.

“There were no signs of a forced entry and the action involved moving through key-coded and locked security doors. She was also subjected to personal hostility at the hands of council officials and police officers,” the committee said.

The committee has called for "a full, transparent and urgent" inquiry and has called on the Home Office to do "everything in its power" to locate any missing files in its possession relating to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and other places.

Keith Vaz MP, chair of the committee, said: “We found it shocking that evidence of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was ignored by both Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police. A number of individuals attempted to bring these crimes to light, only to face obstacles from the council and police, which in some cases questioned their credibility and the veracity of their claims. If the council and police had taken these warnings seriously, the abusers could have been brought to justice more quickly and some of the later victims could have been spared their ordeal. Others should take serious note.

“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 Home Office must do everything in its power to locate any missing files in its possession relating to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and other places.”

Shaun Wright - Lynne Cameron PA Wire
(Former South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright c. Lynne Cameron/PA Wire)

The committee also proposed a draft bill that would allow Police and Crime Commissioners to be recalled. This is in response to the controversy surrounding former South Yorkshire PCC Shaun Wright, who initially refused to stand down despite being the Rotherham councillor with responsibility for children's services between 2005 and 2010. Vaz said that this “highlighted the fact that there is no way of removing PCCs”. Wright eventually did step down on 16 September, three weeks after the publication of the inquiry report by Professor Alexis Jay.

A Home Office spokesperson said that the home secretary will lead a debate on the issue of PCC recall.

The spokesperson added: "We are already taking a wide range of action to ensure police, councils, the health sector and other agencies are taking their safeguarding responsibilities seriously and share our commitment to ending this appalling abuse.

"The increasing number of cases the police are bringing before the courts demonstrates the progress that is being made.

"But there is much more to do. That is why the Home Secretary has announced an independent inquiry into child sexual abuse within public bodies and non-state institutions. Fiona Woolf will chair the inquiry and a complete list of panel members will be announced shortly.”

(Top Image: c. Lynne Cameron)

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