Police commissioner resigns over Rotherham child abuse scandal

Police commissioner resigns over Rotherham child abuse scandal
In the aftermath of the Rotherham child sex scandal, South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, has officially resigned. He stepped down following mounting pressure from multiple high profile establishment figures.

Wright faced increasing demands from the prime minister, home secretary, and senior Labour party members to cede his position, in the wake of Professor Alexis Jay’s report into systemic child sexual exploitation in Rotherham from 1997 to 2013.

Following much initial reluctance, the former Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) who held responsibility for children’s services in the district between 2005 and 2010, finally stepped down on Tuesday. In a formal statement, he acknowledged his role had clearly become controversial “in terms of public opinion and media coverage following the publication of Professor Alexis Jay's report.”

Wright warned, however, that the harsh criticism he faced in recent times detracted from the most important issues that had arisen from the scandal – providing adequate support to the “1,400 victims outlined in the report,” and bringing their abusers to justice for the “atrocious crimes” they committed.

On these grounds, Wright said he felt that it “is now right to step down from the position of police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, for the sake of those victims, for the sake of the public of South Yorkshire and to ensure that the important issues outlined in the report about tackling child sexual exploitation can be discussed and considered in full and without distraction."

The former crime commissioner faced a sharp backlash when he appeared before the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel (PCP) in public last week. Family members of alleged victims, located in a public gallery where the proceedings were taking place, shouted angry remarks at him. As a result, the meeting came to a halt at several points.

Following the proceedings, the PCP issued a vote of no confidence in Wright and backed calls for a legislative shift, which would facilitate him being officially fired. In light of the controversy surrounding the former crime commissioner’s unwillingness to step down, the home secretary, Theresa May, said the prospective introduction of powers to recall PCCs whose constituents have lost confidence in their abilities warrants public debate.

Professor Jay’s report revealed approximately 1,400 children had been sexually abused and exploited in Rotherham over a period of 16 years, predominantly by men from the local Pakistani community. The report also denounced “blatant” collective failures on behalf of the local council’s leading members.

Throughout the course of her inquiry, Professor Jay uncovered cases of children who had been drenched in petrol and “threatened with being set alight,” threatened at gun-point, forced to witness brutal rapes and warned they would be exposed to similar treatment should they inform anyone of what they had experienced.

The research also detailed cases where girls as young as 11 were raped by multiple abusers, and trafficked to other North English towns and cities, where they were subsequently abducted, intimidated, and beaten by gangs.

Commenting on Wright’s decision to resign, Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, told BBC Radio Sheffield: "I'm delighted he's finally done it. I'm amazed, I thought he'd bedded himself in.”

Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East, said Wright had made the right decision, given he had lost the public’s confidence. He acknowledged that, as police commissioner, Wright had done “a pretty good job,” emphasizing “one of the things he's tried to concentrate on is more support and more resources for dealing with child exploitation.”

“But, in the end, it's his time at Rotherham where the spotlight is on and that's what he's been held to account for and why he's had to resign. You can't feel sorry there, except for children who've been abused", he added.

The resignation of Wright will spark a by-election for the vacant PCC post, the date of which is currently unknown.