Abuse scandal: heads must roll

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THE FINAL insult to the 1,400 children betrayed by the failure of Rotherham Council, South Yorkshire Police and other agencies to take action to prevent the sexual exploitation of vulnerable young people by Pakistani gangs over a harrowing 16-year period came when Professor Alexis Jay, the widely-respected social worker who investigated this scandal, was asked if any official had been disciplined for this dereliction of duty. “No,” she replied, to gasps of astonishment.

This was not an isolated incident. This was the sexual abuse, gang rape and horrific violation of children as young as 11 on an industrial scale, and which was overlooked because of the “bullying and macho” culture of a council that was morally rotten to the core and a discredited police force which did not listen to many of the victims.

“In the early years there seems to have been a prevalent denial of the existence of child sexual exploitation in the borough, let alone its increasing incidence and dangers. By 2005, it is hard to believe that any senior officers or members from the leader and the chief executive downwards were not aware of the issue,” wrote Prof Jay.

Given this indictment, many will be surprised that Roger Stone – Rotherham Council’s leader since 2003 – only realised that his position was untenable once this devastating critique had been published. Was no one in the local Labour Party aware of this unfolding scandal and prepared to ask questions of their own?

The shamed Mr Stone is not the only person who should be examining their conscience. It’s difficult to see how those councillors still in office from the period in question can command the public’s confidence. The same test is also applicable to South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner Shaun Wright – he was Rotherham’s cabinet member for children’s services from 2005 until 2010.

And then there are those unnamed police and local authority officers “still in professional practice who worked in Rotherham during the critical period”. The council’s chief executive, Martin Kimber, says their current employers will be made aware of the report, but there are no guarantees that disciplinary action will now take place. This must not suffice. If Prof Jay or Mr Kimber do not have the authority to hold to account those individuals who turned a blind eye to this scandal, then the Government must act.

Frankly, it is no longer acceptable, after a succession of scandals, for public servants to hide behind the now meaningless and hollow-sounding facade that ‘lessons will be learned’ when this is so rarely the case.

They were paid – and expected – to stand up for the interests of Rotherham’s children. They also had a moral obligation to report any misgivings if there were insufficient resources to investigate the abuse claims.

The consequence of this abrogation of responsibility? At least 1,400 youngsters, many from troubled backgrounds, facing a lifetime of mental torment because the people supposedly entrusted with their wellbeing and protection were pre-occupied with their own “agendas and prejudices”. Put simply, it doesn’t get any worse than this.

Jury is out on television debates

THE ANALYSIS following the last of the Scottish independence TV debates between Alex Salmond and Alistair Darling has overlooked one key point – expectations.

Could it be that Mr Darling ‘won’ the first clash because viewers expected more from the SNP leader while Mr Salmond was the more dominant personality on Monday night because the former Chancellor of the Exchequer – so unflappable during the financial crisis – could not meet the public’s increased expectations and began to lose his composure?

Either way, the battle for independence now rests with Scotland’s voters and they do appear to have been galvanised by the campaign and the consequences for their own finances and the United Kingdom’s long-term stability. Indeed, it would be a sad day for democracy if voters north of the border were not exercised by the future of their country.

Yet, as the post-debate inquest intensifies, two further points merit careful consideration. First, Monday’s ill-tempered exchanges – and constant interruptions – were unedifying and appeared to achieve little. If this is a foretaste of next year’s general election debates between the party leaders, apathy is even more likely to prevail.

Second, the fact that so many Scottish farmers – Conservative creatures by instinct – are now inclined to vote for independence highlights the scale of the disconnect between Westminster and rural communities across Britain. As such, it is a reminder that governing parties have obligations to the whole country, and not just the select handful of marginal seats in urban Britain where elections are won and lost.