THE chief constable whose force ignored or overlooked 1,400 cases of child abuse has insisted he was “not an idle man”.
Meredydd Hughes, former chief constable at South Yorkshire Police and in charge during a period of widespread child sexual exploitation, has defended his work at the crisis-hit force.
Mr Hughes has been accused of a dereliction of duty amid claims he focused his efforts during his time in charge, from 2004 to 2011, on speeding motorists rather than helping young girls subject to gang rape and violence.
The former chief, now working as a consultant in the Middle East, said the widespread abuse by mostly Asian men of white working class girls as revealed in the Jay Report had never been raised with him.
“I can say with honesty that at the time I was chief constable I never heard any of these claims,” Mr Hughes told the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Chairman Keith Vaz said the claim that the then officer knew nothing was astonishing.
“We find it impossible to believe that the first time you heard of this was when you read these reports,” Mr Vaz said.
Mr Hughes said: “I thought I had a picture of all the force areas – not just Rotherham but all the boroughs under my responsibility.
“I thought I had good relationships with local authorities and others who were bringing data to me in different ways other than reported crime figures.
“I thought I had the relationships that would alert me to issues that needed attention.
“I was wrong. I reiterate my apology and I am devastated that I am in this position.”
He added: “I take no pleasure in this, I have failed the victims, it hurts.”
Mr Vaz gave a damning instant assessment of the evidence Mr Hughes had given to the committee, telling the former police chief it was “totally unconvincing”.
He said: “We find, on this committee, your evidence totally unconvincing in that there are still serious questions to be asked of the way in which you have conducted yourself.
“Your contrition today, I think, is welcome but, I think, it needs to go much further and certainly we will be referring the evidence you gave to us today to the bigger Rotherham inquiry that the Home Secretary has announced.”
He was backed by Rotherham MP Sarah Champion who told The Yorkshire Post: “I was staggered by what I heard Med Hughes saying in the committee.
“To claim he knew nothing about the scale of the abuse at very best shows he had no governance or scrutiny of his force, at worst he was seriously negligent in his duty to protect victims.”
Mr Hughes denied an assertion by Tory committee member Michael Ellis that he had been “grossly incompetent”.
Pressed over whether he had been under pressure to meet Government-imposed targets in relation to cutting certain types of crime, Mr Hughes replied: “I’m not seeking to evade responsibility, I’m not seeking to try and blame somebody else about targets being set.”
Asked if he should face any sanctions, such as losing his pension, he replied: “I’m happy that I am dealt with in accordance of the law of the land.”
The ex-chief constable – who was among those considered as Labour’s candidate to be police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire – denied any personal political bias.
Earlier in the hearing the current Chief Constable David Crompton was accused of letting down the people of Rotherham.
“I find it incredible that the police seemed not to know what was happening in the South Yorkshire area,”Mr Vaz said.
“It was impossible you could not have known,” he added.
Mr Crompton said he accepted things had not been done as they should have in the past, but said the force was now addressing those issues, working with 25 new victims who have come forward since the report was published.
There will also be an inquiry into one officer’s handling of victims after a girl was left with her abusers.
An IPCC spokesman said: “The IPCC met with South Yorkshire Chief Constable David Crompton today in relation to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
“As a result of this meeting, we expect South Yorkshire Police to refer some matters to us in the near future.
“Once we have received these referrals we will conduct an assessment to determine whether an IPCC investigation is required.”