Organised child sex abuse ‘widespread in England’, MPs say
A review of child protection systems across the country has been called for by the Commons’ Communities and Local Government Committee.
Its report also said Rotherham Council and Ofsted had “failed” the victims targeted in the town.
It suggested the council’s protection policies were “divorced from reality”, enabling the abuse to continue.
MPs said all councils across England now needed to review child protection policies.
Their report said: “On the evidence we took, the alarming conclusion is that Rotherham was not an outlier and that there is a widespread problem of organised child sexual exploitation in England.”
The MPs inquiry was prompted by a report by Prof Alexis Jay, which revealed up to 1,400 children were estimated to have been victims of abuse in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.
Ofsted, which carried out a series of inspections during the period, said it had introduced a “more rigorous inspection framework”.
Rotherham abuse scandal: Key dates
26 August: Professor Jay’s report is published. Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone steps down with immediate effect.
2 September: South Yorkshire Police commissions independent investigation into its handling of the Rotherham child abuse scandal.
8 September: Martin Kimber, chief executive of Rotherham Council, announces he will leave his post in December.
16 September: South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright (pictured) resigns.
19 September: Joyce Thacker, head of children’s services at Rotherham Council, resigns.
18 October: Home Affairs Select Committee calls for investigation into allegations files relating to the abuse scandal went missing.
In the immediate wake of the report, published on 26 August, the council’s then leader Roger Stone stood down.
South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, who was in charge of children’s services in Rotherham from 2005 to 2010, resisted calls to quit until he too resigned on 16 September.
Joyce Thacker, head of children’s services when the report was published, then stood down on 19 September.
The MPs’ report investigates the lessons for local government that have been recommended in the wake of Prof Jay’s investigation.
Labour MP Clive Betts, chairman of the committee, said Ofsted would be called before the MPs to answer “serious questions” about its inspections.
“Repeated Ofsted inspections in Rotherham failed to lift the lid on the council’s shameful inability to tackle child sexual exploitation,” said Mr Betts.
The MPs also criticised the town’s councillors for their lack of effective scrutiny and challenging of council officers.
The report said the authority had many child protection policies but they were “divorced from reality”.
The parliamentary committee called for an investigation into missing files at the council and said council officials “should be held accountable for their actions.”
“Arrangements should be put in place to bring to account not just council officers still in post but those who have moved on from an authority before serious questions about their performance emerge, ” said Mr Betts.
In a statement, Ofsted said it welcomed “the opportunity to give evidence to the committee”.
“In common with a number of organisations, we accept that past inspections may not have given child sexual exploitation the forensic focus it needed and deserved,” it said.
Rotherham Council leader Paul Lakin has welcomed the report and said an internal inquiry into the missing files had begun but the council planned to bring in an external audit team to complete the task.
He said: “Our ways of doing business are now more open and transparent and accountable than before.
“We are putting in place a new, high quality management and leadership team with the ability and capacity to secure real improvement.
“We have opened up our full council and cabinet meetings with webcasting, and backbench councillors are bringing forward plans to increase public participation in meetings.
“We will be looking again to ensure that our scrutiny function – which also now has new political leadership – is as effective as possible.”