Rotherham council chief quits over child sex scandal

Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber
Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber
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The chief executive of Rotherham Council is to step down in the wake of a shocking report that detailed the sexual exploitation of at least 1,400 children in the town.

Martin Kimber, who joined the authority in 2009, said: “I believe that new leadership will enable the town to recover more quickly from the events of the last two weeks, and strongly signal a new beginning at this critical time in its recovery.”

Professor Alexis Jay’s report outlined how hundreds of children had been subjected to trafficking, rape and other sexual exploitation between 1997 and 2013 and how their plight had been ignored by range of agencies, including police, councillors and council officials.

Mr Kimber, who has been at the forefront of Rotherham Council’s response to the Jay Report since it was published a fortnight ago, said he will leave his post at the end of December.

He offered an unreserved apology from the authority at a press conference immediately following its release.

Today, he said: “The report does not make comfortable reading in its account of the horrific experiences of some young people in the past, and I would like to reiterate my sincere apology to those who were let down when they needed help.

“The events of the past fortnight will again have been an incredibly traumatic time for them and their families, and have shaken the town as a whole.

“The council has now decided what it must do to give the best possible protection for the children and young people of Rotherham. I believe that new leadership will enable the town to recover more quickly from the events of the last two weeks, and strongly signal a new beginning at this critical time in its recovery. The time is therefore now right for me to leave.

“I will be sorry to leave Rotherham but firmly believe that this will leave the council in a stronger position in the future. It is therefore the right thing to do in the interests of the people of the town.

“I remain committed to supporting colleagues over the next three months. There is no more important job for this council than to ensure it continues to work with partners to seek justice for those young people and their families who are affected by this vile crime, and to give our vulnerable children and young people the protection they deserve.”

Responding to the announcement, Rotherham MP Sarah Champion said: “I welcome Martin’s decision to step down today. Children in my constituency have been let down appallingly by those charged with protecting them. I have called for Martin to be held accountable for his managerial failings.

“He was Chief Executive of the Council and the buck stops with him. Whilst Labour Councillors have already acknowledged and accepted their failings in governance, many current and former staff still have serious questions to answer.

“It was unbelievable that Martin announced no disciplinary or criminal action would be taken in the wake of Alexis Jay’s report. 1400 children and 1400 families in Rotherham were let down by our council, and the victims deserve better than just two weeks of media scrutiny.

“Those in child protection who failed to care for our children must be held to account. Rotherham’s families need to have faith in council staff. If we allow staff to remain and ignore their historic failings; how can we have confidence our children will be protected in future? The big question still remains: is anyone going to be disciplined over this?”

Council leader Roger Stone resigned in the immediate aftermath of the report. Since then there have been top-level calls for others in senior positions during the 16 years covered by the report to step down, especially South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Shaun Wright.

Before he was elected as PCC, Mr Wright was a councillor in Rotherham for more than a decade and the cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services from 2005 to 2010.

Prime Minister David Cameron, Home Secretary Theresa May and Labour leader Ed Miliband have all called for Mr Wright to resign as has his deputy, Tracey Cheetham, who stepped down herself in protest at his failure to go.

When Labour threatened to drop him last week, Mr Wright resigned from the party. He has not been working at his office in Barnsley, and was last spotted walking out of the South Yorkshire Police HQ in Sheffield on Monday.

He will face questions from MPs tomorrow about his knowledge of the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

Mr Wright will appear before the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, which will also hear evidence from South Yorkshire’s chief constable David Crompton, senior Rotherham Council official Joyce Thacker and NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless, who is leading a review into the Home Office’s handling of abuse allegations.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said: “The revelations from the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham are deeply troubling.

“The committee will be questioning those in positions of authority at the time that these offences were being committed on how the sexual exploitation of children on a horrifying scale was allowed to go unchallenged for so long.

“We will also be hearing from Sir Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC about progress in their ongoing review of how the Home Office handled historical allegations of child abuse.”