MPs investigate police failure in Rotherham child abuse scandal
The police chief at the center of the Rotherham child abuse scandal has admitted to MPs that he had “singularly failed” victims and that he had “no idea what was going on” during his time leading South Yorkshire Police.
Meredydd Hughes, chief constable of South Yorkshire Police from 2004-11, told the Home Affairs Select Committee he had “no understanding of the scale and scope of what was going on in Rotherham.”
“This is a hideous crime, I am deeply embarrassed, I can say with honesty I had no idea of the scale and scope of this,” he added.
However, the Home Affairs committee criticized Hughes, telling the former Chief Constable that his ignorance over the activities was “totally unconvincing.”
"This is not something I would have given a blind eye to, nor something I would have willfully ignored," said committee Chairman Keith Vaz.
“The committee doesn't accept that you didn't know anything about child grooming in your area."
The ongoing inquiry was sparked following a report conducted by Professor Alexis Jay, outlining how more than 1,400 children in Rotherham had been subjected to rape, sexual exploitation and trafficking over a 16-year period.
The report also revealed instances when children who were victims of trafficking became suicidal and repeatedly self-harmed, while many had developed drug and alcohol addictions.
The publication of the report sent shockwaves through the UK. Many fear that it may spark ethnic tensions as the majority of the perpetrators come from South Asian backgrounds, particularly from Pakistan.
In 2012, a journalist from the Times published an investigation revealing secret police reports warning that thousands of child grooming cases were being committed in South Yorkshire each year by gangs of Asian men.
Other networks of Asian majority gangs have also been discovered in Manchester and Oxford.
South Yorkshire’s current chief constable, David Crompton, was also questioned by MPs and asked how his force planned to bring perpetrators of abuse to justice. Crompton assured the committee his officers were “clear on how serious an issue this is".
On Monday, Rotherham council's chief executive Martin Kimber
resigned, saying that the town needed a new leader to recover
after the child abuse rings were exposed.
"I believe that new leadership will enable the town to recover more quickly from the events of the last two weeks, and strongly signal a new beginning at this critical time in its recovery. The time is therefore now right for me to leave" he said in a public statement.
Whistleblowers under threat
The inquiry also uncovered details of government whistleblowers being threatened by police officers for attempting to expose the scandal, as a result of which one unnamed Home Office researcher “feared for her life.”
According to the report, the researcher, who worked for the Home Office between 2001-2002, was “subjected to personalized hostility at the hands of officials” when she brought up the case.
The researcher also told the committee in a closed session that two senior officers threatened her, saying “Wouldn’t it be a bad thing if some of those men [a child-sex grooming gang] found out where you live?”
The committee further questioned South Yorkshire County’s police and crime commissioner, (PCC) Shaun Wright, and Joyce Thacker, Rotherham Council’s director of children’s services.
Both individuals have faced calls for their resignations over their failures to tackle child abuse, with Vaz calling Wright a “charlatan” and a “dead PCC walking.” According to reports in the Guardian, Vaz is currently inquiring about an ‘emergency law’ giving the power to sack Wright from his post.
Wrights’ refusal to resign has reportedly led to a rise in far-right activism from groups including the English Defence League (EDL), which have maintained a large presence in Rotherham since the reports’ publication.
The EDL is reportedly planning to hold a demonstration of over 1,000 members on Saturday.