South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright should step down following the “devastating” report into child abuse in Rotherham, the Labour Party said today.
Mr Wright had this morning vowed to continue in his role despite the report laying bare the horrifying scale of child sex abuse while he held a key position at the town’s local authority.
Mr Wright was the Labour council cabinet member responsible for children’s services in Rotherham from 2005 to 2010, in the middle of a 16-year period when 1,400 youngsters suffered wide-scale sexual exploitation including gang rapes, grooming and trafficking.
He apologised to victims of abuse today and insisted he had no knowledge of the scale of the problem when he was a Rotherham councillor.
But the Labour Party said today he should step down from his post as PCC following the publication of the damning report into the scandal.
A Labour spokesman said: “The report into child abuse in Rotherham was devastating in its findings. Vulnerable children were repeatedly abused and then let down.
“In the light of this report, it is appropriate that South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright should step down.”
Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has also called for him to step down.
However he added: “The Labour Party has no power to compel somebody who has been elected Police & Crime Commissioner to stand down”
Earlier in the day Mr Wright, who was elected as the Labour PCC in 2012, insisted he had taken his share of responsibility by quitting Rotherham council in 2010 after the scandal was first revealed.
He told Sky News: “Clearly I’m very sorry for any abuse that took place - if I could have prevented it, I would. Any right-minded human being would want to protect vulnerable children, of that I am convinced.
“All I can say is that this is a top priority for South Yorkshire Police and it will remain a top priority for South Yorkshire Police for as long as I am in this role.”
He added: “I take my share of the responsibility, there was systemic failure and I only wish that I knew more at the time - if I knew then what I know now, then clearly more could have done.
“I think I took appropriate actions where that was available.
“I do have regrets that perhaps I was not more aware of the issue at the time where I could have perhaps influenced services better.
“But in the end I regret my role in that systemic failure and I have taken responsibility for that.”
Mr Wright said abuse report author Professor Alexis Jay should have gone further and “named names” in terms of council officials, politicians and police officers who had failed to protect youngsters from abuse.
He said issues identified in the report regarding culture and ethnicity came as a “huge surprise” to him because he had not been made aware of the problems at the time.
He told the broadcaster: “What Prof Jay has painted a picture of is really an industrial scale of child abuse that was taking place.
“To that extent I was simply not aware of the scale of the problem.
“Had I have been and I would have been aware of the issue then like I am today, then clearly much more action would and could have been taken.
“What this report demonstrates is that lots of information was not escalated up to political level or indeed senior management level. For that I am hugely shocked and hugely sorry.”
Prof Jay’s report - commissioned by the council - said failures of the political and officer leadership of Rotherham council between 1997 and 2009 were “blatant” as the seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers and was not seen as a priority by South Yorkshire Police.
Rotherham council leader Roger Stone resigned yesterday following its publication and there were calls for Mr Wright to follow suit.
The report, which looked at a period between 1997 and 2013, detailed “utterly appalling” examples of “children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally-violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone”.
Prof Jay said that children as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in northern England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.
The spotlight first fell on Rotherham in 2010 when five men were given lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex.
Umar Razaq, 24, Razwan Razaq, 30, Zafran Ramzan, 21, Adil Hussain 20, and Mohsin Khan, 21, were found guilty at Sheffield Crown Court of a string of sex-related offences against girls aged between 12 and 16, including rape.
Yesterday’s report by Alexis Jay, said it was “extraordinary” that Rotherham council’s ruling Labour group, in which Shaun Wright was a senior councillor, did not discuss child sex abuse until 2012.
It said Mr Wright who served as Rotherham council’s lead member for children and young people between 2005 and 2010 before being elected as PCC in 2012, was “aware of CSE from the outset of his tenure”.
It said: “He believed that reports on the subject which he regularly received as Lead Member were taken seriously and acted upon by the Council in conjunction with the Police.
“This was stated in his written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2013, where he also stated that race was never presented to him by staff or agencies as an obstacle to investigating offences.”
The report adds: “In 2006, a Conservative councillor requested a meeting with the council leader at which he expressed his concerns about CSE.
“This had come to his attention via constituents. He told the Inquiry that the council leader advised him the matters were being dealt with by the police and requested that he did not raise them publicly.
“Interviews with senior members revealed that none could recall the issue ever being discussed in the Labour Group until 2012.
“Given the seriousness of the subject, the evidence available, and the reputational damage to the council, it is extraordinary that the Labour Group, which dominated the council, failed to discuss CSE until then.
“Some senior members acknowledged that that was a mistake. Asked if they should have done things differently, they thought that as an administration they should have tackled the issues ‘head on’, including any concerns about ethnic issues.
“The terms used by many people we spoke to about how those in authority (members and some officers) dealt with CSE were ‘sweeping it under the carpet’, ‘turning a blind eye’ and ‘keeping a lid on it’. One person said of the past ‘the people above just didn’t want to know’.”
The shocking report said girls as young as 11 were raped by “large numbers of male perpetrators”, with some victims trafficked to other towns and even doused with petrol and threatened with being set alight.
These failures happened despite three reports between 2002 and 2006 “which could not have been clearer in the description of the situation in Rotherham”.
Rotherham council chief executive Martin Kimber offered a “sincere apology” but said he did not have evidence to discipline any individuals working for the council despite the report saying there had been “blatant” collective failures by its leadership at the time.
He said officers in senior positions responsible for children’s safeguarding services at the time of the failings “do not work for the council today”.
But he said the report would be passed onto the employers of those who had moved onto other care roles so they could “make their own judgements on their particular role at the time”.
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who was children’s secretary in the last Labour government, admitted there was nothing the party could do to force Mr Wright to quit.
He told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One: “The Labour Party has no power to compel somebody who has been elected as a police and crime commissioner to stand down.
“But it is absolutely our view that he should do so. That is something which has been communicated to him today and I hope he very much reflects upon the position he is now in and the importance of leadership in these matters.
“We need to show that we, not just in Rotherham but across the country, can command public confidence to keep children safe, lessons have got to be learned.
“But when you have a failure of this magnitude and catastrophe, then people have to take responsibility.”
A senior Labour source said the party expected “we will all behave in a reasonable and responsible way” and questions about what would happen to Mr Wright if he refused to quit would not arise.
Children’s commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson said cases of abuse similar to those in Rotherham were happening across the country.
She told The World At One: “This is going on across the country and it’s not historic, it’s still happening now. Vulnerable children deserve our protection.”
The report revealed that although the majority of perpetrators were described as “Asian” by victims, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how to tackle the issue and some staff were nervous about identifying the abusers’ ethnic origins “for fear of being thought racist”.
But Dr Atkinson said: “It’s actually racist for anybody to consider that were you to approach that community, it wouldn’t take seriously what you were raising.
“It’s racist to assume that you know what they will think and how they will behave. That’s one of the failings that everybody needs to learn from in this excoriating report.”
Writing on Twitter Bassetlaw MP John Mann said: “Stones resignation from Rotherham should be the first of many...
“If there is wholesale abuse of children under your watch as politician responsible for children’s safety then you resign. Honour in politics means you resign for scandal under your watch. If you turned a blind eye then you should face criminal investigation.”
The leader of the Lib Dem group on Sheffield City Council, Colin Ross, said: “Shaun Wright was the councillor in charge of children’s services at Rotherham Council and also sat on the Authority of South Yorkshire Police when both organisations knew about the level of child sexual exploitation, but chose not to do anything about it. It’s difficult to see how local people can have confidence in him to continue as our Police and Crime Commissioner.”
Ukip Yorkshire and Humber MEP Jane Collins added: “I categorically call for the resignation of everyone directly and indirectly involved in this case. The Labour Council stand accused of deliberately ignoring child sex abuse victims for 16 years. The apologies we have heard are totally insincere and go nowhere near repairing the damage done.
“These resignations should include South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright who until his election into the PPC post, held responsible positions with Rotherham Council. I also call for a criminal investigation by a force not directly linked with this scandal in to all those implicated in this scandal. There is no place for these people in public life.”
Paul Lakin, a Labour councillor in Rotherham, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that everyone involved needs to consider their own situation.
“I have been a councillor since 1999, and I am one of the councillors who has seen this through,” he said.
“It is about what councillors might have known. If people do not know, then they are not really in a position to do anything about it.
“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.”
Asked why no constituents or victims had ever raised the issue with him, Mr Lakin said: “I don’t know... there are clearly some issues. I am not the only elected member in Rotherham who is (saying that).”
Mr Lakin refused to call for the PCC to quit, insisting that is “clearly one for him and him alone”.
John Healey, the Wetnworth and Dearne Labour MP said: “The extent and brutality of the abuse detailed in this report is appalling. I felt sick and shocked to read about the extreme and severe violence inflicted on some abuse victims.
“Rotherham Council rightly commissioned this report to fully understand what went wrong, give victims the chance to speak up and expose the wide-ranging failings. It lays bare very serious failures in the police, council and other agencies.
“The report is clear that children were very badly let down in Rotherham. The voices of vulnerable young girls went unheard by the people who should have been there for them but weren’t.
“The council has rightly apologised without reservation and accepted all the report’s recommendations. The Leader Roger Stone has also rightly taken full responsibility for the council’s failings in resigning.
“Now each and every one of the report’s 15 recommendations must be implemented immediately and fully, and both the council and police must demonstrate publicly this has been done.”