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Rotherham abuse scandal: Who was in charge?

Rotherham abuse scandal: Who was in charge?

A street sign in Rotherham, South Yorkshire

Revelations of child abuse on a massive scale in Rotherham prompted calls for resignations among those in power at the time. Who was in charge?

Rotherham Council’s leadership has been accused of “blatant” collective failures in a report that detailed the sex abuse of hundreds of children between 1997 and 2013, mainly by gangs of men of Pakistani heritage.

Report author Professor Alexis Jay said senior managers had “underplayed” the scale and seriousness of the problem and police also failed to prioritise it. She insisted that, given her findings, “nobody could say ‘I didn’t know'”.

Who are some of the people who held key posts at the council and the police at the time of the abuse?


Shaun Wright, Labour councillor in charge of children’s services, 2005-10

Undated file handout photo issued by South Yorkshire Police of South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright

Shaun Wright was appointed cabinet member for the newly-created department of children and young people’s services in April 2005.

He resigned in 2010 when the scandal first surfaced, saying this week: “I… take full responsibility for my part in the collective failures which took place at Rotherham Council during the time I was in office and indeed to that end I resigned in 2010.”

He has said he had no idea about the “industrial scale” of abuse that took place during his tenure.

In 2012 Mr Wright was elected as South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner.

He repeatedly insisted he would stay in the £85,000-a-year post despite facing increasing pressure to step down following the report’s publication.

But he has now resigned, saying he was doing so to ensure the “important issues” highlighted in the report could be considered “without distraction”.

He has also resigned from the Labour Party, which had threatened to suspend him. The party has since said any application to rejoin would need to be approved by the National Executive Committee.


Joyce Thacker, strategic director of children and young people’s services, 2008-present

File picture of Rotherham Council's strategic director of children and young people's services, Joyce Thacker, from May 2012

Joyce Thacker joined the council as senior director of services for children and young people in 2006 and began her current post in July 2008.

She said she was “appalled” at the scale of the abuse and offered her “sincere apologies to those who were let down by our services in the past”, adding there were “simply no excuses”.

Mrs Thacker added in her statement that when she took up her current role she made the issue of child sexual exploitation an “immediate priority”, presenting two reports about the issue to Mr Wright in 2008.

“The report author is clear that child protection services have been transformed since 2010… The best way I can exercise my responsibility is to drive forward the report’s recommendations, and make sure young people in Rotherham are even safer,” she said.

Rotherham chief executive Martin Kimber said there was no evidence in the report that led him to conclude Mrs Thacker was implicated in “suppressing information or failing to react appropriately to emerging issues around child sexual exploitation”.

Mrs Thacker was made an OBE in 2006 for services to young people.

In November 2012, she drew criticism for her decision to remove three foster children who were “not indigenous white British” from a couple who were members of UKIP.

Earlier this month she faced questions from the Home Affairs Select Committee and said she had no intention of resigning.

She said: “We knew about child sex exploitation but not the scale of it. I don’t accept dereliction of duty, but I could have done more.”

In September it was revealed Mrs Thacker was on sick leave. She resigned later that month “by mutual agreement” with the council.


Dr Sonia Sharp, director of children’s services, 2005-08

File picture of Dr Sonia Sharp

Sonia Sharp, who started work as Rotherham’s first director of children’s services in April 2005, said after Professor Jay’s report was published: “You can’t be a director of children’s services and not take responsibility for what happens to children.

“I am sorry that these children and young people suffered terrible abuse and I wish we could have done more to prevent the abuse of children and young people in Rotherham.”

Dr Sharp said she had been briefed by “politicians, senior managers and front-line staff about the issue of sexual exploitation of young people” when she joined the authority.

“We knew that there were many children in the community at risk and feared that this was the tip of an iceberg,” she said.

“Nine years ago, our greatest challenge was to change the predominant view that these young people were ‘promiscuous teenagers in consensual relationships’, rather than victims of child abuse.”

She has worked for the Australian state of Victoria’s department of education and early childhood development since 2012.

Richard Bolt, secretary at the department of education, said: “I have no doubt that Sonia tackled the issue of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham with maximum commitment, professionalism and focus,” adding the report had referenced numerous changes made during Dr Sharp’s management that led to improvements.

But Andrew Collins, an advocate for abuse victims, said Dr Sharp’s position in Australia was now “inappropriate” and she should resign “immediately”.


John Gomersall, director of social services, 1999-2006

Undated file picture of John Gomersall

John Gomersall worked for the council between 1973 and 2006, the report said.

Three inquiries into child sexual exploitation took place while he worked as director of social services.

Mr Gomersall, whom the Daily Mail said was believed to be living in the US, was among those interviewed as part of Professor Jay’s report.


Roger Stone, council leader, 2003-14

File photo of Roger Stone, former leader of Rotherham Council, from January 2009

Roger Stone, a Labour councillor since 1988, was elected leader of the council in 2003.

Mr Stone, who held a number of positions during his time at the council, was made an OBE for his service to local government in 2009.

Last year he announced the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, apologising “unreservedly to young people who had been let down by safeguarding services that, before 2009, “simply weren’t good enough”.

Mr Stone resigned with immediate effect in response to the inquiry’s findings, saying: “I believe it is only right that as leader I take responsibility for the historic failings described so clearly.”

He has since been suspended from the Labour Party.


Paul Lakin, cabinet member for children, young people and families’ services, 2010-2014, council leader 2014-present

Paul Lakin

Former steelworker Paul Lakin has been a Labour councillor since 1999. He was made lead member for children, young people and families’ services in 2010.

“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,” he told BBC News.

Mr Lakin, who had been serving as the deputy leader of the council, was named as its new leader earlier this month. He has also announced details of its new slimline cabinet.

He has previously said he would not resign from the authority.


Martin Kimber, council chief executive, 2009-present

Martin Kimber

Martin Kimber became chief executive in October 2009.

He has said he accepts the report and the recommendations made and has apologised to the victims of abuse.

Mr Kimber has said no council employees will face disciplinary action, as there is not enough evidence.

On September 8 he said he was to leave his post in December and reiterated his “sincere apology to those who were let down”.

Mr Kimber said new leadership would mean the town could “recover more quickly” and “strongly signal a new beginning”.


Mike Cuff, chief executive, 2004-09

Mike Cuff

Mike Cuff, who retired in 2009 after five years as chief executive, said following the report’s publication that he took his “share of responsibility” for the council’s failures, adding he was “truly sorry”.

He said it was “on his watch” that the organised abuse of young girls by a gang of Asian men came to light.

“This led eventually to their conviction in 2010. I know that professional social workers and the police worked well together to support the abused girls and to secure the successful prosecution of their abusers,” he said.


Ged Fitzgerald, chief executive, 2001-03

Ged Fitzgerald

Ged Fitzgerald was chief executive in Rotherham from 2001 to 2003.

The inquiry found that during that time a report detailing the growing problem of child abuse in the town was suppressed and the researcher who wrote it disciplined.

The inquiry concluded: “If the senior people concerned had paid more attention to the content of the report, more might have been done to help children who were being violently exploited and abused.”

Mr Fitzgerald, who was among former staff interviewed for Professor Jay’s report, is now chief executive of Liverpool City Council.

He has said the report’s publication “raised questions” about his tenure and that he would be discussing the matter with his current employers.


Matt Jukes, policing commander for Rotherham, 2006-10
Matt Jukes is now Deputy Chief Constable of South Wales Police.

South Wales’s police and crime commissioner, the former Labour minister Alun Michael, said: “His involvement at Rotherham was at a time which the report states the police became more proactive, better liaison was established and child sexual exploitation became a priority and I am satisfied that there is nothing in the report that in anyway undermines the confidence we have in DCC Jukes as a leader. ”

Chief Constable Peter Vaughan added: “It is clear from this report that his [DCC Jukes’s] arrival coincides with a focus on tackling the issue of child sexual exploitation with local authority and voluntary sector partners.”


Other former elected members

Jahangir Akhtar

Jahangir Akhtar, who became council deputy leader in 2011, temporarily stepped down from his post in August last year following claims he knew of a relationship between a 14-year-old girl in care and a suspected child abuser.

Police said they would not be taking the matter further last November. He lost his seat on the council in May’s elections.

He told ITV News the first time he realised “something terrible had been going on” was when five men were convicted for sexual offences against girls in 2010.

“I wasn’t around, I wasn’t on the cabinet, I wasn’t on the executive,” he said of the period of the abuse, adding that reading the report had been “horrific”.

He was also suspended from the Labour Party in early September.

Mark Edgell, council leader from 2000 to 2003, now works for the Local Government Association as, the Daily Mail reports, a principal adviser on children’s services.


Other ex-council staff
Erica Leach was child protection co-ordinator at the council between 1998 and 2003.

She was independent child protection co-ordinator at Nottinghamshire County Council for three years until this year. Nottinghamshire Council, who confirmed she had worked there, said it considered the protection of children its “highest priority”.

Di Billups was executive director of education at Rotherham between 2001 and 2005. She spent the last 15 months of her career setting up a children and young people’s service to bring together education, social care and health for the first time, the Daily Telegraph reports.

She retired in 2005, the paper says.


Image of the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham

The report lists in full the interviewees it spoke to, including more than 50 current and former council staff, and current and former elected members, along with 11 current or former senior police officers.

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