GANGS of Asian men were allowed to prey on vulnerable young white girls for years in Yorkshire because authorities were “terrified of being called racist”, a former MP has said in a dramatic committee hearing in Westminster.
Ann Cryer, who was MP for Keighley for 13 years before stepping down in 2010, said there had been a total failure by police, social services, schools and hospitals in West Yorkshire to work together to address evidence of child sex exploitation which emerged a decade ago.
“There has to be inter-agency working – and that wasn’t happening then,” Ms Cryer told MPs last night.
“The West Yorkshire Police, Bradford local authority, social services, schools, even hospitals – because abortions were taking place – none of them were working together. None of them were giving information.
“I feel pretty convinced that at that time, there was a fear of being called racist.”
Child sex exploitation has become a burning issue over the past 12 months following a series of high-profile court cases, many of them involving gangs of British-Pakistani men.
Newspaper reports exposed cases of girls being sexually exploited in Rotherham, while a high-profile ring in Rochdale was found to have links across West Yorkshire.
Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee has launched an investigation, and at a hearing last night the scale of the issue was revealed by chairman Keith Vaz.
“We’ve had figures from the Deputy Children’s Commissioner that shows in her view there are 16,500 children at risk, and 2,409 who’ve been sexually exploited over a 14-month period,” Mr Vaz said. “They sound to us to be phenomenally high figures.”
Ms Cryer’s successor as the MP for Keighley, Kris Hopkins, insisted the issue is now being dealt with properly by the police, and told the committee there are “ongoing cases” of child exploitation in the Bradford district – adding that “30 people have been arrested in the last two months”.
But when Ms Cryer first raised the issue back in 2003, having been contacted by several worried mothers in her constituency, she felt something of a lone voice.
“It was one of those things that wasn’t really talked about,” she said.
The former Labour MP told the committee she always knew it would be a difficult subject to raise because of the sensitivities involved – but felt she had no choice but to speak out.
“If I had a terrific concern of being called racist, I wouldn’t have done it,” she said.
“I didn’t allow it to get in my way of taking care of and doing right by some very vulnerable, very young girls – we’re talking about ages 11 to 13.”
She added: “I have three grandchildren who are half-Indian, and another grandchild who is half-African. It would have upset me if anyone had called me a racist – but I wasn’t going to let that get in the way of protecting children.”
But for the local authorities in West Yorkshire 10 years ago, she said, the picture seemed different.
“It didn’t make sense, the lack of activity – particularly by Bradford social services and West Yorkshire Police,” Ms Cryer said. “I formed the opinion that they were terrified about being called racist.”
Committee member David Winnick described older men who exploit young teenage girls for sex as “degenerate and criminal”, and said “the sooner they face justice, the better it will be for all concerned.” But Ms Cryer said she felt there was a broader cultural issue in the way that some young British-Pakistani men view white girls.
“They take great pride in their girls, and how their girls are very careful in the way they dress and are always covered in some way –and then they see the other side of the situation,” she said.
“Young white girls, as young as 12 or 13, where their cleavage is almost meeting their hemline.
“And I don’t think these lads understand this is just part and parcel of fashion. It isn’t that they’re throwing out an invitation to them.
“Somebody, somewhere needs to get this over to them.”
She made clear that the vast majority of Bradford’s Asian communities are disgusted by such
“It’s bringing shame on their community, and they are very embarrassed about it,” she said.
“They regard these young men as completely beyond the pale.
“Perhaps it’s unfortunate that they’re thinking they are also beyond their influence.”
Mr Hopkins said local authorities must take action, but that “the most powerful voices” need to be women within the Asian communities. He said he has already spoken with Home Secretary Theresa May about a project to help Asian women find a stronger voice.
“Mums, grandmas, future mums in those families need to be empowered,” he said.
“I’ve spoken to the Home Secretary, I’m about to see (Communities Secretary) Eric Pickles, and what I want to try and do is
get women empowered in that community, and really become the voice in that community and the challenge to these young men.”
Mr Hopkins also paid tribute to Ms Cryer’s “absolutely rigorous” efforts to expose the issue.
Mr Vaz told her recent events were “almost a total vindication of what you’ve been saying since 2003”.
But Ms Cryer said: “I have mixed emotions. I’m please people are recognising that what I was saying was right. But I’m also very upset that after all these years, we’re still getting these cases.”