Published on 4 Feb 2015 Sections

‘Not fit for purpose’ Rotherham council cabinet resigns

The cabinet of Rotherham council resigns after a report into the council’s ongoing handling of thousands of child sexual exploitation cases paints a picture of cover ups, archaic sexism and bullying.

Rotherham metropolitan borough council continues to let down victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE) said Louise Casey, who led the inspection team, adding that she was “shocked” by what she found. Shortly after her report was published, it was announced that the cabinet of Rotherham Borough Council would resign.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles told parliament the report painted a “disturbing picture” and said that he planned to appoint commissioners to take over the cabinet’s functions to provide child protection services and taxi licensing, amongst others. He also announced that he intended to trigger an all-out council election in 2016.

‘Culture of denial’

Ms Casey’s report found the council was failing to improve and failing in its duties to protect vulnerable children and young people from harm. Painting a picture of a culture of bullying, sexism and suppression, it concludes “the council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses, without a sustained intervention.”

Rotherham seemed concerned to make things appear better, rather than be better

It also accuses it of “covering up uncomfortable truths, silencing whistle-blowers and paying off staff rather than dealing with difficult issues.”

In August 2014 an investigation found that around 1,400 children had been sexually exploited in Rotherham between 1997-2013. The report, by Professor Alexis Jay, said this was a “conservative estimate” and that “no one knows the true scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham over the years.”

Professor Jay reported that girls as young as 11 had been raped by large numbers of men. Others were trafficked to towns and cities in the north of England.

Children were subjected to extreme brutality: some were doused with petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone.

However the Jay report found the police had “regarded many of the child victims with contempt”.

Many of the abusers were of Pakistani origin, and the inspection team led by Louise Casey found “misplaced ‘political correctness'” was still present.

Read more: Rotherham child abuse - the ethnic dimension

Its report concluded that “by failing to take action against the Pakistani heritage male perpetrators of CSE in the borough, the council has inadvertently fuelled the far-right and allowed racial tensions to grow.”

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“It has done a great disservice to the Pakistani heritage community and the good people of Rotherham as a result.”

Ongoing inquiries

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is investigating the conduct of 10 South Yorkshire Police officers in relation to their handling of reported child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

On Wednesday the Times newspaper reported that South Yorkshire Police had also referred to the IPCC allegations about a corrupt police officer who was said to have regularly passed information to abusers targeting vulnerable children for sex.

In a statement the IPCC told Channel 4 News “Since we announced our investigation we have received 20 individual complaints. Work is onging to assess these complaints to determine whether they are new allegations or matters already under the remit of our investigation.”

The same Times article also said that two Rotherham councillors – one still serving – had been accused of having sex with child victims of the scandal, and that these allegations had been passed to Operation Stovewood at the National Crime Agency (NCA), which is investigating what happened in Rotherham. In a statement, the NCA said it would “examine a number of potentially criminal matters” identified by Louise Casey’s inspection team.

Resignations

Following the publication of the Jay report in August 2014 leader of Rotherham Council, Roger Stone – who had served since 2003 – stepped down, as did its Chief Executive Martin Kimber and Joyce Thacker, the director of children’s social services.

Shaun Wright, who had been a labour councillor in charge of child safety, stood down as South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner the following month, after initially refusing demands that he should do so.

‘Inexcusably slow’

In October 2014 the home affairs committee investigated Rotherham’s council’s response to child sexual exploitation and found that it had been “inexcusably slow to realise that the widespread, organised sexual abuse of children, many of them in the care of the local authority, was taking place on their doorstep.”

While it conceded that improvements to the way the council deals with children and young people at risk of sexual exploitation had been improved somewhat, “senior leadership in Rotherham council failed in their duty of care towards these girls.”

It concluded that: “There is compelling evidence that both Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and South Yorkshire Police ignored numerous, credible warnings about the scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

“Given that these warnings came from Risky Business [a local charity] and others who had been expressly tasked with investigating and tackling the problem, it is difficult to understand why they were not taken more seriously. It is even suggested that documentary evidence was stolen in order to supress it.

“It is hard to resist the conclusion that, 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.”