THE WARNING given by Ann Cryer in 2003 was clear and unambiguous. Teenage girls in her Keighley constituency, said the then MP, were being systematically groomed, abused and raped by gangs of Asian men. Yet the response to these alarming claims was largely to dismiss them as dangerous fantasies.
More than a decade later, however, it became clear that this pattern of events was occurring not only in Keighley, but in various towns and cities across the country, one notable example being Rotherham where exhaustive inquiries eventually revealed the full scale of the abuse and the failings of police and social workers that allowed it to happen.
Only last week, the unprecedented scale of child sexual exploitation being uncovered in Bradford was revealed by The Yorkshire Post, while a serious case review made it clear that a series of opportunities had been missed between 2010 and 2012 to prevent a gang of men abusing a young teenager known only as Autumn.
Why has this been happening? Is it down to complacency, a misplaced sense of political correctness, or simple incompetence with the various agencies involved failing to liaise with each other properly?
In truth, it is likely that a mixture of all these factors is involved. But one indication of Bradford’s complacency in the face of all the rumours and allegations comes in the latest revelation that, in 2010, the authority shelved the role of a co-ordinator employed to support young abuse victims, leaving a two-year gap before a new unit was established. This, of course, was precisely the time when Autumn was suffering at the hands of sexual predators.
Bradford Council insists that things have changed and that it now takes allegations of child sexual exploitation very seriously. It is only to be hoped that this is true. But the full scale of this problem is still emerging. Thirteen years after Mrs Cryer’s warning, the question to be asked is not whether this systematic abuse is actually happening. It is how widespread is it and where will the next appalling scandal emerge?
Orgreave: Truth at last?
GIVEN THE Government’s intransigence in the face of growing demands for an inquiry into police conduct at the so-called Battle of Orgreave, the very least that the Home Secretary can do is to make public all the official information relating to the violent events of that summer day 32 years ago.
It is gratifying, then, that Amber Rudd has seen fit to show goodwill on this issue by releasing a host of files relating to the 1984 miners’ strike, including at least one directly concerning Orgreave.
Of course, this will not nearly be enough to satisfy the Orgreave campaigners. Nor should it be considering this newspaper’s findings which revealed serious concerns about South Yorkshire Police’s conduct prior to the collapse of the prosecution of dozens of pickets arrested during clashes at the coking works.
The heightened concern over this issue, the exposure of the police’s manifest failings at the Hillsborough disaster five years later, and the questions that need to be asked regarding the influence of the then government, are all eloquent arguments for opening an inquiry.
However, if these arguments are to be ignored, then it is to be hoped that the files to be released next year will shed sufficient light on these matters to resolve at least some of the arguments.
A word of caution to Ms Rudd, though: if the Government is truly committed to openness and transparency on this issue, it must ensure that no information is held back. In the absence of an inquiry, this may be the best opportunity finally to lay to rest the bitterness of Orgreave. If so, it must be taken.
Bittersweet day for Barnsley
For many Barnsley families today will be bittersweet as the 150th anniversary of the Oaks Colliery disaster comes around.
Bitter in as much as it is their community that will be forever remembered in history as suffering the largest mining loss of life in English history with 383 perished.
But today is also a chance for families to share stories with young people in South Yorkshire who have only been promised a Northern Powerhouse, whereas their forebears built and lived it, the fruits of their proud labour fuelling this plucky little island to global domination.
It is up to us to ensure that promise is delivered.