Police ‘put Sheffield youngsters at risk of child abuse’

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HUNDREDS of young people at risk of child sexual exploitation in Sheffield were let down by police, a whistleblower claimed this evening.

Ann Lucas, who ran Sheffield’s exploitation service, accused South Yorkshire Police of repeatedly failing to act, prioritising instead burglary and car crime.

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Ms Lucas told BBC News she had regularly passed details about alleged abusers to senior officers.

Tonight South Yorkshire Police said her allegations would be investigated.

The force is already facing an investigation following the publication of the Jay report in August that accused it of failing child-exploitation victims in neighbouring Rotherham, where at least 1,400 children were found to have been abused by largely Asian gangs over a 16-year period.

Ms Lucas’s claims were reported as Rotherham Council announced it would demand better standards of its taxi drivers in the wake of the report on child abuse in the town.

The authority is propising to tighten the regulations on drivers with previous convictions and introducing new rules on the quality of vehicles.

Drivers from overseas will have to do more to prove that they are of “good character” and anyone applying for a taxi licence will have to pass a qualification which covers awareness of disability and the safeguarding of children.

The Jay report on the sexual abuse of children in Rotherham published earlier this year made repeated references to the role of taxis and the licensing of the trade is one of the subjects of the ongoing inspection of the council order by Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles.

Dave Richmond, director of housing and neighbourhood services for Rotherham Council, said: “Rotherham’s taxi and private hire trade has an important role to play in helping to people to get around the borough. The Report has had a significant impact on public confidence in the taxi trade and we want to do everything we can to restore public confidence and ensure that Rotherham has a respected, professional and thriving taxi service.

“Rotherham’s current policy is compliant with the law and our standards exceed those of some areas, but in light of the Jay Report and its impact on public confidence, we feel that we should do all that we can to make sure we have some of the highest standards nationally and a top quality service. We hope the industry will work in partnership with the authority on this.

“It is all about customer service and we need to work together to ensure that anyone using taxis across the borough has a safe, reliable and pleasant experience.”

Meanwhile, a taxi firm in Rochdale has revealed it is sending white drivers on request.

The firm has received requests in Heywood, Rochdale, after two local drivers were jailed for their part in the rape and trafficking of young white girls.

Stephen Campbell, manager of Car 2000, said the number of people asking for a white driver shot up after the 2012 grooming case. That case preceded the recent grooming scandal in Rotherham, in which young white girls were preyed on by Asian gangs.

After a dip, it has nudged up again in the wake of fears about Britons who sympathise with terror group Islamic State (IS).

Mr Campbell said: “We don’t promote anything like this, but if you ring up and say ‘can I have a white driver?’ we will provide one. We are offering a service.

“Initially, back in 2012, the number of people asking for white drivers went up, then it went back down. It has gone up again a bit since this coverage of IS. I think people are being programmed by what they watch on the news.

“They ask for ‘local’ drivers and by that they mean white. The ridiculous thing is all my drivers are local - they were all born here.

“All taxi drivers get abuse, but Asian drivers put up with more abuse than anyone else.”

The move comes amid rising tensions in Rochdale following revelations of gang rapes, grooming and trafficking of white girls at the hands of mainly Asian gangs.

Nine men from Pakistan and Afghanistan were jailed for a total of 77 years in May 2012 for plying young, vulnerable girls with drink and drugs so they could “pass them around” for sex.

A serious case review highlighted a catalogue of “shocking” failures and found that social workers and police adopted a “colour blind” approach that was “potentially dangerous”.

Mr Campbell’s firm, Car 2000, took over Eagle Taxis, a firm which formerly employed two drivers at the heart of the scandal, in May 2011.

But he said he only discovered that two former employees were part of grooming ring when they were on the news for being in court the following year.

He said at least two other taxi firms in the borough of Rochdale only employed white drivers, but 60% of the cabbies on his books were Asian.

“If I had my way I would dissuade people from ordering a white taxi driver,” Mr Campbell said. “However, sometimes I struggle to find the words to change peoples’ minds. It depends on the way they were brought up.

“We are offering a service. It is like going into a shop and saying ‘can I have a Coca-Cola?’ and the person saying you have to have a Pepsi.”

He added: “I would very much like to be told it is illegal (to offer white drivers) and therefore I’ll stop doing it. But I will lose customers who will go to firms that only employ white drivers.”

Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale, ferering to the scandal of white girls being groomed by Asian gangs in Rotherham, said: “This story is not unique to Rochdale, but it is a worrying sign of some of the tensions that still exist in the wake of the grooming scandal.

“There is clearly a lot of work to be done in terms of rebuilding community relations. The whole town wants to move on from this scandal and politicians have a duty to talk openly about these issues.”

Mark Widdup, director of economy and environment at Rochdale Borough Council, said: “Any private-hire business must satisfy a ‘fit and proper’ test before they are licensed by the council and able to operate within the borough.

“While we have not had any complaints regarding Car 2000 up to this point, we are now taking legal advice as to whether their policy to offer white drivers contravenes the ‘fit and proper’ test, and will act accordingly depending on the outcome of that advice.”