As a true Guardian reader, and liberal leftie, I didn’t want to rock the multi-cultural boat says former Rotherham Labour MP Denis MacShane as he insists no-one raised town’s child sex abuse scandal with him
- Report found 1,400 children abused between 1997 and 2013 in Rotherham
- Victims terrorised with guns and doused in petrol and threatened with fire
- Report’s author condemned ‘blatant’ failings by council’s leadership
- Mr MacShane said there was a culture of ‘misplaced racial sensitivity’
- Majority of victims described the perpetrators as ‘Asian’ men
- Labour’s Shaun Wright, head of children’s services 2005-2010, refuses to step down from new role as South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner
PUBLISHED: 00:32, 27 August 2014 | UPDATED: 19:01, 27 August 2014
Denis Macshane said he did not look further into the town’s child abuse sex scandal because he is a ‘true Guardian reader and liberal leftie’ and ‘did not want to rock the multi-cultural boat’
Disgraced former Labour politician Denis MacShane has admitted that he shied away from investigating allegations of a child sex abuse scandal in Rotherham because he is a ‘true Guardian reader’ and did not want to ‘rock the multi-cultural boat’.
The former MP, who resigned as MP in 2012 over the expenses scandal, said ‘misplaced racial sensitivity’ prevented him from ‘burrowing into’ the widespread sexual abuse allegations and oppression of women in the Muslim community.
He made the comments after a damning child protection report found 1,400 children were sexually exploited in the town by gangs – most of them of Pakistani origin – between 1997 and 2013.
A group of ‘influential’ Pakistani councillors were accused in the report by a council officer of blocking attempts to tackle the abuse and also meddling in domestic abuse cases involving Asian women in the town.
Mr McShane said: ‘I think probably [I didn’t do as much as I could]. I think that I should have burrowed into it.
‘Perhaps yes, as a true Guardian reader, and liberal leftie, I suppose I didn’t want to raise that too hard.’
He also told the BBC: ‘I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multi-cultural community boat if I may put it like that.’
But Mr McShane insisted today that no individual came to see him about the allegations and that he once had a ‘huge row’ with a fellow MP when the issue was probed.
He said: ‘What I can say was that no single individual, no constituent, no child, no family same to see me.
‘I was concerned about it, I raised it quite often, it’s difficult sometimes for an MP to second guess everything that the chief executive of a borough was doing and all the senior officials.
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‘I was never happy with the rather complacent answers that I got. Certainly I know, and the records will show that this was never, ever brought to my personal attention.’
The report also alleges that Labour politicians from the same community ‘acted as barriers’ to attempts to tackle the 16-year campaign of abuse.
And when the Pakistani-heritage Deputy Council Leader suggested tackling the situation ‘head-on’ in the Pakistani community he was overruled by colleagues, it was said.
Mr MacShane added: ‘I had a huge row just before I was defenestrated in the town hall with one of my fellow MPs and council grandees because they were complaining about the reporting by Andrew Norfolk of The Times.
‘I was saying ‘he’s done this town a huge service, we should be working with him, getting him to investigate all of this,’ but that’s not the message anyone wanted to hear.
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‘Cover up’: Pakistani councillors at Rotherham Council ‘acted as barriers’ in the face of attempts to expose the scandal which saw 1,400 children sexually abused by Asian gangs, predominantly Pakistani men, a report said
‘Nobody pursued Jimmy Saville, nobody pursued Rolf Harris, nobody pursued Cecil Smith, nobody pursued Mrs Thatcher’s sidekick we now learn was a depraved predatory monster.
‘There is in our country, just a dreadful culture and I wouldn’t pick particular on one ethnic community but it is a real problem, it’s a longer story about the nature of that community, their sexual relations, and the way they treat women in particular within that community, there’s a big problem.’
In the report, one council official also told author Professor Alexis Jay social workers felt pressure from Pakistani officials to reveal the whereabouts of women fleeing domestic violence.
They were also told to encourage women to go back to their attackers rather than support the victims’ own choice of action, they said.
Ukip’s Yorkshire and Humber MEP Jane Collins said: ‘This part of the report is just shocking.
‘To cover up something of this scale, they cannot have been acting out of shame; it is evil.
‘It seems specific councillors have put up barriers to stop the problem becoming public and stop the problem being dealt with – blocking both white women and Pakistani-heritage women from getting help.’
Under pressure: South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright (pictured today) has apologised for the failings of Rotherham Council during the time he led children’s services – but Labour has called for his resignation
She added: ‘This issue needs to be tackled within the community and to hear that councillors have blocked that is unbelievable.’
The blocks by a group of unidentified councillors came amid a widespread refusal by police, social services and council officials to acknowledge the ethnicity of the perpetrators.
Police suppressed evidence of the crimes because they feared being labelled racist.
Concerns about damage to community cohesion were also put above the need to protect the vulnerable.
Victims were treated with contempt by police who turned a blind eye to their plight and in many cases holding them responsible.
Professor Alexis Jay wrote: ‘The issue of race, regardless of ethnic group, should be tackled as an absolute priority if it is known to be a significant factor in the criminal activity of organised abuse in any local community’.
Despite the appalling failures in the case, no one in the authority has been sacked or even disciplined.
MPs and charities said the scale of the abuse was almost ‘incomprehensible’ and called for a criminal investigation into those who helped cover it up.
Home Secretary Theresa May piled further pressure on Mr Wright to step down from his position.
She said: ‘Shaun Wright has had an involvement in this, both as a Councillor and now he is Police and Crime Comssioner. It’s not my job as Home Secretary to hire and fire Police and Crime Commissioners.
‘The whole point of them is that they’re elected by the people so it is a choice for electorate. His own party have called for him to resign. I think he has real questions to answer. In the circumstances, I think he should heed those calls.’
She added that ‘everybody’ involved in child safety in Rotherham needed to ‘look at the role they played in this and their position’.
Labour’s shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper added: ‘The Labour Party has said that we think the PCC should stand down just as the leader of the council has done because 1,400 children were abused and they were let down badly by the authorities.
‘It’s not just about people taking responsibility, that’s important. It’s also about the wider reforms that are needed. I don’t think you can ever use ethnicity as a reason not to pursue a crime; any crime has to be vigorously pursued, particularly when it’s about the abuse of children.’
She added: ‘It does appear in some areas that [ethnicity] was a factor, in Rotherham.’
Video playing bottom right…
Support: Shaun Wright was helped Labour Leader Ed Milliband during his 2012 PCC election campaign
The Labour party has now called on its own South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner to step down after 1,400 children were sexually exploited by Asian men under his watch.
Shaun Wright was the Labour council cabinet member in charge of children’s services in Rotherham for a five-year period when his council and the police turned a blind eye to the 16-year abuse scandal because they feared being labelled racist, a damning report said yesterday.
He apologised to victims of abuse today and insisted he was oblivious to the scale of the problem during his stint on the council.
But the Labour Party has refused to back the £85,000-a-year commissioner following the publication of the damning report.
A Labour spokesman said: ‘The report into child abuse in Rotherham was devastating in its findings.
‘Vulnerable children were repeatedly abused and then let down.
‘In the light of this report, it is appropriate that South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright should step down.’
Children as young as 11 were sexually exploited by gangs of men – almost all of them of Pakistani origin – but council officials and police suppressed evidence to avoid causing damage to ‘community cohesion’.
Shaun Wright was in charge when his council failed many of these victims, yet has gone on to become one of Britain’s most high profile public officials running South Yorkshire Police, a force who also treated the victims with contempt.
No council employees will face disciplinary action, it emerged yesterday, and child protection staff who have left are working elsewhere in the country.
Horrific: A report has discovered that 1,400 children were sexually exploited in Rotherham over a 16-year period. Adil Hussain (left) and Razwan Razaq (right) were jailed in 2010 for grooming young girls in the town
Gang: Umar Razaq was another of the five-strong sex gang jailed and placed on the sex offenders’ register while Zafran Ramzan, 21, was jailed for nine years
HOW ROTHERHAM COUNCIL PUT A POSITIVE SLANT ON THE DAMNING REPORT WHICH REVEALED HOW 1,400 CHILDREN WERE LEFT TO BE ABUSED
Rotherham Council claims the gist of yesterday’s report into child protection highlighted how ‘strong’ its social services are.
The review exposed how Rotherham Council failed to stop the sexual exploitation of at least 1,400 children over a 16-year period.
It has sparked outrage, with calls for a full criminal inquiry into the council’s leadership, police and social services.
However, the authority has put a somewhat more positive slant on the reports findings.
The preview of the report on the homepage states: ‘Services to protect young people at risk from child sexual exploitation in Rotherham are stronger and better co-ordinated across agencies today than ever before, an independent review has found’.
A spokesman for the council told Mail Online: ‘That is an adequate summary of the report, which highlighted both the good and the bad.’
Labour MP John Mann tweeted this morning: ‘If there is wholesale abuse of children under your watch as politician responsible for children’s safety then you resign.’
Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk said today that ‘heads must roll’ and in particular Mr Wright needed to ‘consider his position’.
He told MailOnline: ‘Shaun Wright certainly needs to consider his position. I’ll tell you one reason why, it is said that there are 1,400 victims there.
‘My reckoning is that six perpetrators have been prosecuted in recent times.
‘That means there are many other perpetrators of these types of crime who have not been prosecuted, so there are many other perpetrators out there.
‘There are hundreds of child rapists out there.
‘What are South Yorkshire Police doing to catch those people? Some of these crimes date back to the 1990s, why haven’t more people been apprehended? Why haven’t more cases been prosecuted by South Yorkshire? So that is something that the Police Commissioner needs to answer as well.’
The Rochdale MP called on the Home Secretary Theresa May to outline how PCCs can be deposed when they are caught up in scandals.
‘I think one of the problems in all of this, not just in local authorities but also the police.
‘The Home Secretary has to come out and explain how Police Commissioners can be held accountable when something goes wrong like this. How can they be forced to stand down?’
Stepped down: Roger Stone, leader of Rotherham Council, stepped down with immediate effect yesterday
However, today, Shaun Wright remained adamant that he will not stand down, insisting he had no knowledge of the scale of the problem when he was a Labour councillor in the South Yorkshire town.
He told Sky News he had done all he could for the victims and could not have done any more to tackle the scandal as it would have been inappropriate for him to speak to victims of abuse.
And he maintained that he never saw two reports into sexual exploitation carried out under his watch.
Stepping down from his post at Rotherham Council in 2010 was a means of taking responsibility for the failings, he said.
‘Clearly I’m very sorry for any abuse that took place – if I could have prevented it I would,’ he said.
‘Any right-minded human being would want to protect vulnerable children, if that I am convinced.
ROTHERHAM’S LENGTHY HISTORY OF SEX ABUSE INQUIRIES
Early to mid-1990s: Workers told the new report they came across examples of child sexual exploitation from this period.
1997: Risky Business, a team of youth workers, is set up over concerns about young people being abused through prostitution.
2002: Chapter of draft report contained severe criticisms of agencies in Rotherham involved with child sexual exploitation (CSE).
2005: Councillor Shaun Wright appointed cabinet member for the newly-created department of children and young people’s services.
2008: Operation Central set up to investigate men believed to be involved in sexual exploitation.
2009: Ofsted rated Rotherham’s children’s services as “inadequate”.
2010: Five men given lengthy jail terms after they are found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex.
2012: Reports in The Times claim that details from 200 restricted-access documents showed police and child protection agencies in the town had extensive knowledge of these activities for a decade, yet a string of offences went unprosecuted.
2013: Publication of Home Affairs Select Committee report into CSE and independent inquiry into the issue in Rotherham is announced.
2014: Professor Alexis Jay’s report finds 1,400 children suffered sexual exploitation in a 16-year period.
‘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.’
Mr Wright said abuse report author Professor Alexis Jay should have gone further and ‘named names’ in terms of council officials, politicians and police officers.
Mr Wright left his offices in Barnsley town centre by a back door and drove away after the statement, his spokeswoman said.
She did not know where he was heading.
Although she did not hear Mr Wright tell a radio interviewer that he would not resign, despite people telling him he should, she said there was ‘no reason’ not to believe the quote.
The spokeswoman said she had barely had chance to speak to the under-pressure PCC all day due to the number of interviews he had done.
She apologised to reporters who waited in vain for more than two hours to get to speak to Mr Wright, but she did not think he would be returning to the office today.
Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone resigned yesterday 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’.
Children as young as 11 were serially abused by large numbers of men only to be treated with contempt by police and social workers, the Rotherham inquiry found.
It said officials turned a blind eye while at least 1,400 children were raped, abducted and trafficked from city to city.
The victims were taken by taxi from schools and children’s homes for sex acts with men.
Today, the Children’s Commissioner Maggie Atkinson said she was ‘not surprised’ by the findings.
She added that failings to identify and respond to child sexual exploitation are not unique to Rotherham, calling on all local authorities in England to ‘take note of the lessons learned’ from the scandal.
Vicious threats of violence against the victims and their families stopped them going to the police.
Two reports were done on sexual exploitation in the South Yorkshire town but went ignored
They were ‘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’.
Some responded by hurting themselves or attempting suicide.
One repeatedly tried to throw herself in front of moving cars. Another despairingly told investigators: ‘What’s the point? I might as well be dead.’
The devastating report by Professor Alexis Jay revealed that:
- Staff were given ‘clear directions’ from managers to downplay the ‘ethnic dimension’ of the abuse despite almost all the perpetrators being of Pakistani heritage;
- Three separate reports warning of the scale of the abuse were ‘suppressed or ignored’ by the council because it was ‘in denial’ about the crimes;
- Serious discussions about sexual abuse were impossible because of the ‘macho’ and ‘sexist’ culture at the Labour-controlled council;
- Police treated victims and their families as if they were to blame for the abuse, and took no action against the paedophiles;
Abuser: Mohsin Khan was jailed for four years
The report said: ‘It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered.’
The document lays bare how the vulnerable children were often treated as the guilty party. Efforts to help them were obstructed in some cases by the very care agencies charged with protecting them.
Desperate parents tried to rescue their daughters from houses where they were being abused, only to be arrested themselves when police arrived.
Professor Alexis Jay, who wrote the devastating report, said police ‘regarded many child victims with contempt’. In one case, an 11-year-old told police she and another child had been sexually assaulted by grown men.
Known as Child H, she was 12 when she was found drunk in the back of a taxi with a man who had indecent pictures of her on his phone. But despite the full co-operation of her father, who claimed that she was being abused and exploited, police failed to act.
An astonishing dereliction of duty followed four months later when the same girl was found in an empty house with a group of men. Police ignored the abusers and arrested her for being drunk and disorderly.
A girl known only as Child D was 13 when she was raped and trafficked by a violent sexual predator.
Her parents informed the authorities that she was being abused and that she was terrified of the perpetrators.
However, assessment records dating from the time show that officials blamed the girl for ‘placing herself at risk of sexual exploitation and danger’.
As well as the appalling physical abuse, the victims suffered they were frequently subjected to intimidation and emotional abuse.
One child who had agreed to giving evidence against her abusers received a text message saying they were holding her younger sister and ‘the choice of what happened next was up to her’. She quickly withdrew her police statement.
Perpetrators targeted children’s homes and centres offering services to those who had recently left care. They lured them with gifts and rides in fast cars.
Many victims were convinced that they were ‘special’ and that they were in genuine relationships with their abusers. Another victim, Child B, told investigators that she was in love with her abuser, despite his age, and that he was in love with her. She was 15 and had already been trafficked to Leeds, Bradford and Sheffield for sex but when her case was referred to the authorities her family quickly found themselves living in fear.
South Yorkshire police apologise to victims of sexual abuse
Windows at the family home were smashed, she was beaten by other victims at the instruction of her abuser. He threatened to force her into prostitution. A younger child in the family even had to go into hiding so that the gang couldn’t carry out threats made against her. As part of spiralling pattern of violence her elder brother was attacked so badly that he had to be hospitalised.
Unable to cope she took an overdose. By the time she was 18 her family situation had broken down and she had become homeless.
She went to children’s social care to get help only to be given advice about benefits and sent away.
Some victims were left so damaged by the ‘absolutely devastating’ levels of abuse they suffered that they developed long-term drink and drug problems. The fate of many of the young people in the report remains unknown.
Speaking to the BBC last night, one victim said: ‘Police were aware, social services were aware and they still didn’t stop him. It almost became like a game to him. He was untouchable.’
In 2010, a gang of British-born Pakistani men from Rotherham went on trial at Sheffield Crown Court. Umar Razaq, then aged 24, Adil Hussain, then aged 20, Razwan Razaq, then aged 30, Zafran Ramzan, then aged 21, and 21-year-old Mohsin Khan, were found guilty of a string of sexually related offences against the girls.
Ramzan was jailed for nine years, Umar Razaq was jailed for four and a half years, and Razwan Razaq received 11 years.
Hussain and Khan, a mortgage adviser who owned a BMW, both got four years.
Former children’s minister Tim Loughton told the BBC’s Newsnight that any social worker involved in the failings in Rotherham ‘has absolutely no place’ in the care of children.
The Conservative MP claimed it was a ‘common theme’ in sex abuse scandals that ‘nobody pays the consequences’.
He said: ‘A social worker responsible for protecting vulnerable children, to turn a blind eye to a 12-year-old having sexual relationships with a stranger twice, three times her age, and to say that was consensual sex and to do nothing about it – that person has absolutely no place in anything to do with vulnerable children.’
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said that she was concerned that staff could still be working with vulnerable children.
She said there were ‘grave concerns’ that senior managers could now be working in child protective services elsewhere.
‘It’s something we need to investigate very fast,’ she told the programme.
Paul Lakin, a Labour councillor in Rotherham, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that everyone involved needs to consider their own situation.
‘I have been a councillor since 1999, and I am one of the councillors who has seen this through,’ he said.
‘It is about what councillors might have known. If people do not know, then they are not really in a position to do anything about it.
‘I can categorically say that until I came into children’s services in 2010 I was not aware of the depth and breadth of child exploitation in Rotherham.’