South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner apologises after a report found 1,400 youngsters suffered sexual exploitation over a 16-year period, but says he will not resign.
PCC Shaun Wright was the cabinet member responsible for children’s services in Rotherham from 2005 to 2010, in the middle of a period when, according to a report released yesterday, gang rapes, grooming, trafficking and other sexual exploitation on a wide scale was taking place.
He has refused to resign, despite calls for him to do so from Labour, the party he represents.
Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone resigned on Tuesday following the publication of Professor Alexis Jay’s report, and there were calls for Mr Wright, a former Labour councillor who was elected as PCC in 2012, to follow suit.
The leader of the Lib Dem group on Sheffield City Council, Colin Ross, said: “Shaun Wright was the councillor in charge of children’s services at Rotherham Council and also sat on the Authority of South Yorkshire Police when both organisations knew about the level of child sexual exploitation, but chose not to do anything about it. It’s difficult to see how local people can have confidence in him to continue as our police and crime commissioner.”
Ukip Yorkshire and Humber MEP Jane Collins added: “I categorically call for the resignation of everyone directly and indirectly involved in this case. The Labour council stand accused of deliberately ignoring child sex abuse victims for 16 years. The apologies we have heard are totally insincere and go nowhere near repairing the damage done.
“These resignations should include South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright who until his election into the PPC post, held responsible positions with Rotherham Council. I also call for a criminal investigation by a force not directly linked with this scandal in to all those implicated in this scandal. There is no place for these people in public life.”
On Wednesday, Mr Wright apologised to abuse victims, but said he had no knowledge of the scale of the problem when he was a Labour councillor.
He told Sky News: “Clearly I’m very sorry for any abuse that took place. If I could have prevented it I would. All I can say is that this is a top priority for South Yorkshire Police and it will remain a top priority for South Yorkshire Police for as long as I am in this role.”
He added: “I take my share of the responsibility, there was systemic failure and I only wish that I knew more at the time. If I knew then what I know now then clearly more could have done. I think I took appropriate actions where that was available.
“I do have regrets that perhaps I was not more aware of the issue at the time where I could have perhaps influenced services better. But in the end I regret my role in that systemic failure and I have taken responsibility for that.”
Prof Jay’s report, which looked at a period between 1997 and 2013, detailed “utterly appalling” 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”.
She said: “They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.”
She said she found that girls as young as 11 had been raped by large numbers of men.
The spotlight first fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men were given lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex.