Crime chief Shaun Wright is on government sex abuse panel - and he nominated himself

12
Have your say

CONTROVERSIAL police commissioner Shaun Wright is a member of a Government child sexual abuse panel, it has emerged.

Tom Richmond: Shameless excuses of the officials who failed 1,400 abused children

Former South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright appearing in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee

Former South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright appearing in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee

The South Yorkshire Police commissioner, who has refused to resign his job following the Jay report, nominated himself to the panel last year.

The Home Office has insisted Mr Wright was recommended to them by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, but the revelation is bound to force questions over what checks Theresa May’s department made before the appointment.

Mr Wright was head of children’s services at Rotherham Council while large numbers of children were being abused by mostly Asian men. The recent report into the scandal found the council ignored the abuse and was more concerned with political correctness than safeguarding vulnerable children.

All three main party leaders have called for Mr Wright to resign, and Labour has expelled the former councillor from the party.

Crime Prevention Minister Norman Baker said: “Mr Wright was nominated by the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners to be the Labour Party representative on the Sexual Violence Against Children and Vulnerable People National Group. He is no longer a Labour PCC.”I understand the APCC are meeting on 25 September to discuss their new structure to support national groups. This discussion will include future representation on the Sexual Violence National Group”.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said: “This just adds more justification to my call for Shaun Wright to resign. I and Labour have made our position clear and Shaun has been suspended from the party. His position is untenable and it makes a mockery of Police Crime Commissioners for him to remain one.”

Yesterday Mr Wright insisted that resigning would have been the “easy option” despite widespread calls for him to step down following the Rotherham child abuse scandal from the “entire political establishment”.

He told MPs the problem of child sexual exploitation (CSE) was not flagged up to him as a significant issue during his period as the councillor with responsibility for children’s services in the town from 2005 to 2010.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee which is looking into the recent report that disclosed at least 1,400 children were exploited in Rotherham, responded to the commissioner by saying: “We don’t accept you didn’t know.”

Mr Vaz asked Mr Wright how he could stay in his post in the face of almost universal calls for him to go, including from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, Labour leader Ed Miliband, his own deputy - Tracey Cheetham, Sheffield City Council, the Police and Crime Panel that oversees him and the “entire political establishment”.

He told the MPs: “I basically think that resigning would have been, perhaps, the easy option given the last fortnight with the various criticisms that have been made and the effect that that’s had on both myself and my family.”

Pressed again by Mr Vaz, Mr Wright said: “I don’t recall one single external report from Ofsted or any other organisation that flagged CSE as being a significant issue.”

He said: “Over that period of time not one member of the public came to a surgery of mine, not one local councillor asked me a question, either in my political group or in full council, not one local MP in Rotherham raised the issue or a case of CSE for those five years.”

Mr Vaz told him: “We don’t accept any of that.”

Mr Wright said it was his responsibility to the people of South Yorkshire to continue in his post and said no-one had raised any questions about his conduct since his 2012 election - a suggestion scoffed at by Mr Vaz.

The commissioner said he resigned his post at the council in 2010 because of a poor Ofsted report but “I did not resign because of CSE”.

Mr Wright said he had no recollection of having been given first-hand evidence by young victims of the abuse that was going on.

One grooming victim told The Times that she was among several survivors who held a face-to-face meeting with him in 2005 at the offices of an outreach group, Risky Business.

“I do not recall that meeting taking place,” he told the committee.

He said: “As an elected councillor it would have been entirely inappropriate for me to ask to meet young victims of child sexual exploitation and ask them to explain to me or give me the details of the circumstances.

“I have never done that and nor would I deem it appropriate.

“But yes, I have met victims of child sexual exploitation but predominantly when they have become adults and wanted to offer that information up to me.”

He claimed to have received “in excess of 100 messages of support” from individuals, including “many councillors, MPs and others”.

Mr Wright told the MPs: “I can’t honestly say I was aware of the industrial scale that’s been described by Professor Jay until I read Professor Jay’s report.”

Defending his decision not to quit, he went on: “The best apology that anyone in my position can give a victim is to do our utmost to make sure that they receive the support that they need to recover and that we put in place proper measures to prevent it happening to other people.

“I have done nothing but reflect on my position and I have determined that the best that I can do for victims past, present and potentially future is to stay in my role and see through the work that I have set in train.”

Earlier, ex-South Yorkshire Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes told the MPs he was “distressed” that he had not been made aware of the problem and that he felt “sick” when he read reports into it over recent days.

But he was rebuked by Mr Vaz who told him his denials were “impossible to believe” in the face of “evidence of the most compelling nature” to the contrary and that he had “signally failed” victims.

The Jay Report, published a fortnight ago, found that at least 1,400 children had been subjected to CSE in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

It detailed how girls, and some boys, had been subjected to gang rapes, trafficking and horrific violence and pointed to a failure on the part of police, council officials and councillors to deal with the scandal.

Mr Hughes told the committee that he had not seen three of four reports being examined by their inquiry until recent days.

“Some of those reports ... I frankly felt sick last night when I read, he said:

“I am not immune to the ideas that this is a hideous crime and I am deeply embarrassed.

“But I can say with honesty that at the time that I was both deputy and chief constable, I had no idea of the scale and scope of this type of organised crime.”

Mr Hughes said: “This is not something that I would have turned a blind eye to, nor something I would have wilfully ignored.

“With respect to the evidence you have been given, those who know me personally know that I would not turn a blind eye or cover up incidents of child abuse.

“I take no pleasure from this. I have had a 32-year police career and, yet on this issue I have signally failed the victims of these criminals and it hurts.

“It is something that I loathe. And to say that I am either misleading or lying to this committee, I can only answer by saying that I welcome the fact that there will be an independent inquiry into the documentation and the whole history of this force in respect of this.”

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.

“It’s a matter of record that I came bottom of the selection process, so I don’t think it’s that cosy,” he said.

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.”

Current chief constable David Crompton said the 25 new victims had now come forward - more than double the 12 he reported to the committee last week.

He was also forced to make an apology to MPs after previously giving the committee incorrect figures.

During a preliminary session last week, the chief constable said a specialist team dealing with child sex abuse cases had secured a total of 104 convictions since the start of 2013 when there had actually only been 68.

Mr Vaz took the unusual move of announcing that all the evidence during today’s session would be given under oath and warned that false information would be “subject to the penalties for perjury”.

Mr Crompton said he was in talks with the National Crime Agency over bringing it in to stage an inquiry into what has happened and a former chief constable is also being considered to run the investigation.

He told MPs: “I think probably the best way to go about this is for this to be handled outside South Yorkshire police so that the public have got confidence that these matters are dealt with appropriately.

“I’m in ongoing negotiations with the National Crime Agency who are, at this stage in principle, willing to take ownership of such an inquiry to give it that level of independence.”

A Home Office researcher - who was not named - said last week that her report into child sexual exploitation in the town had been suppressed and she had been subject to threats.

The researcher said her data was taken during a raid on her office in the town and she was put under pressure to change her findings.

Mr Crompton said: “I’m absolutely committed to getting to the bottom of it. If there are any disciplinary matters, and some of these are being raised with me for the first time today, you have my absolute commitment we’ll get to the bottom of it.”

Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber explained his decision, announced yesterday, to stand down in December from the £160,000-a-year post which he has held since 2009.

“I was horrified at the scale of sexual abuse uncovered across Rotherham and I feel terribly sorry for all of the victims and all of their families,” Mr Kimber told the committee.

“I asked myself whether I felt I could do any more. I accept my share of responsibility.”

Mr Kimber said he had not yet decided whether he would take the pension to which he is entitled from Rotherham Council.

Mr Vaz welcomed the chief executive’s decision to step down but said he could not understand why he had not recommended any suspensions or disciplinary action for officials at the council, including Joyce Thacker, who has been head of children’s services since 2008 and was deputy head for two years before that.

He said that the committee had heard “compelling” evidence in private from the head of the Risky Business youth project in Rotherham, Jayne Senior, which made it “very very clear that Joyce Thacker had in her possession detailed reports about child sex grooming in Rotherham and nothing was done about it”.

Mr Kimber said he had not previously been aware of that information.

He told the committee that the Jay Report did not contain “sufficient information to consider disciplinary action”, but that he was now seeking further information.

Mr Vaz directly asked Ms Thacker: “Why are you still in post?”

Ms Thacker told the committee: “We actually commissioned this report.

“We wanted to lay bare what had been going on for years and years, and this was an opportunity to do that.

“It’s been very hard over the years to make this a priority in the council, to get it understood.”

Ms Thacker had told the committee she had given a “lot of thought” to resigning but insisted she had “worked hard” to improve services in Rotherham.

She added: “I have given that a lot of thought and I am not stepping aside for the simple reason that I am accountable to the people and the children and families in Rotherham.”

Ms Thacker said she took responsibility for every incident of child abuse and worked “tirelessly” with her staff on the issue.

Ms Thacker said: “I have known ever since I have been involved in Rotherham and chaired the Risky Business project that there was a huge issue of child sexual exploitation in the town.

“There was a small group of people in a small project who were desperately trying to get their voice heard.”

Asked what she and Mr Wright had done about the problem, Ms Thacker replied: “We knew about child sexual exploitation and abuse but we didn’t know the scale of it ... I have worked tirelessly to improve things in Rotherham and make sure that people understood it was everyone’s business to stop this.”

Mr Vaz said the whole committee believed Ms Thacker should quit.

He said: “We don’t accept your evidence that you raised this and nobody was listening to you.”

“You should resign as a matter of conscience and in order to try and cleanse the council of the leadership that it has had so far,” he added.

“That is the unanimous and collective view of this select committee.”

Mr Vaz said: “The attitude that you have displayed today and the unimpressive nature of your evidence only adds to that.

“You might like to bear that in mind Mr Kimber, since you have still got three months before you go. I’m sure you wouldn’t like your legacy to Rotherham to be you have gone and the rest of those responsible are still there.

“I’m sure since everyone has so much respect for you in the council you will use your persuasive power to try and cleanse the council of the past to give the people of Rotherham, the young people of Rotherham in particular, a future.”

Mr Wright told the committee he believes he is “doing a very good job”.

Ian Austin read out claims made by a victim that they had told Mr Wright the names of offenders and he had “acted shocked but we never saw him again”.

The Labour MP said: “Are you really denying that level of detail?”

“I’m quite surprised,” Mr Wright replied. “If I’d had that conversation I’m pretty sure I would have remembered it.”

Mr Wright told the committee that being forced to quit the Labour Party had been “very painful”.

He said: “I have taken my position. I feel a duty to serve out my term of office and the Labour Party have taken their position for their reasons.”

Mr Wright dismissed claims that he was remaining in post only because of a “love of the salary” as “absolute nonsense”.

Labour MP Paul Flynn said: “You are the least credible witness I have ever come across. I don’t believe what you are saying.”

Mr Vaz said he is writing to Home Secretary Theresa May to call for emergency legislation to allow PCCS to be ousted and called on Mr Wright to quit.

He said: “I will be writing to the Home Secretary to ask her to look at the legislation on PCCs because there isn’t any at the moment to see if there can be a possibility of emergency legislation or an amendment to deal with a situation such as yours because it is unsatisfactory in our view that someone should be able to say to the public who elected them ‘I’m just carrying on’ no matter the stacks of evidence that we have heard that calls into question your evidence to us today, which we find entirely unconvincing.

“That’s why, and I can’t remember this ever happening from a select committee in terms of a public official who has been elected, that we call for your immediate resignation.”