WERE FILES stolen to prevent the Rotherham sex grooming scandal, and the abuse of at least 1,400 young girls by predominantly Asian gangs, from being properly investigated? In an extraordinary twist, Parliament’s Home Affairs Select Committee cannot rule out this possibility following its inquisition of leading council officials as well as past and present chief constables.
Though today’s report could not be more damning of Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police, its tone is not unexpected – MPs were withering as they accused of providing totally unconvincing evidence. The county’s now ex-chief commissioner Shaun Wright was even accused of being “a charlatan” and “in love with his salary”.
Yet the questions persist as Simon Bailey, the national lead police officer for child abuse, warns that Rotherham is just the tip of an iceberg and that tens of thousands of youngsters are being exploited each year.
How can those public servants who betrayed so many vulnerable children be “held to account” when most of the key protagonists have already resigned or are in the process of stepping down?
It would be the final insult if the individuals concerned were allowed to walk into new jobs in the public sector while so many victims are still seeking the truth.
This critical issue of accountability within a public sector that does have a reputation for over-promoting weak officials is just as important as the introduction of a new law that will enable crime commissioners to be held to account – and sacked if necessary – if their conduct falls below acceptable standards.
Yet, while this is a matter for MPs, the Home Office does now need to respond urgently to the “compelling evidence” that Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police “ignored numerous, credible warnings about the scale of child sexual exploitation” and “whether documentary evidence was stolen to suppress it”. Committee chairman Keith Vaz is right – the sheer number of files which cannot be located does risk giving “rise to public suspicion of a deliberate cover-up”.
Of course, the onus is now on the Home Office to do everything within its powers to find these missing documents, but Home Secretary Theresa May should not shy away from asking an outside police force to investigate the matter if such a course of action will help bring about justice for the most important people of all – the 1,400 victims of an unforgivable scandal.
A moral obligation: Lead by example in slavery fight
ONCE AGAIN, the Archbishop of York is leading by example with his call, on Anti-Slavery Day, for the whole of Yorkshire to come together to help identify victims of human trafficking who are being exploited by modern day ‘slave drivers’.
If people do have a moral conscience, they will not wait for the Modern Slavery Bill, which returns to Parliament next week for further debate, to become law. They have an obligation, as responsible citizens, to report any suspicions to the police and the authorities, and for them to pursue allegations of abuse with the rigor that such cases merit.
More than 200 years since William Wilberforce, perhaps the greatest ever Yorkshireman, successfully led the campaign to abolish the slave trade, it is a stain on society that the exploitation of foreign nationals – and others – is still rife with countless victims suffering in silence because they’re not in a position to escape from their miserable and degrading existence.
Ghandi once said that “the true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members”. As Dr John Sentamu implores with characteristic charisma, let us hope that these wise words strike a chord on this special day of compassion.
Taste of success: Buy Yorkshire wherever possible
THE enduring link between farming and food has never been stronger in Yorkshire – or more important to the future prosperity of the rural economy – ahead of this weekend’s Countryside Live celebration in Harrogate.
It follows the 2014 Taste Awards which were another resounding triumph for those local producers who are helping this region to become the food and drink capital of the United Kingdom. This is not just an aspiration; it is a tangible proposition.
Despite farmers facing many challenges, not least the collapse in milk prices, this ingenuity continues to be a recipe for success which is deserving of public support. Not only should consumers buy British – but they should also be buying Yorkshire wherever possible.