Three years after Professor Alexis Jay revealed how at least 1,400 children had been victims of appalling sexual abuse in Rotherham, last month saw the publication of six reports examining different aspects of the scandal and the conduct of the local council.
The sheer amount of information in the six reports is overwhelming and unlikely to be read by many who will instead rely on the summary of each report. While the intention may have been to release reports dealing with related issues, the result is that key points of each report have been engulfed in a tidal wave of information.
Included in the six reports is one which is an independent investigation conducted by law firm Gowling LLP into the performance, practice and conduct of senior employees of the council between the years of 1997 and 2013, the period of time covered by Professor Jay’s inquiry.
The report conducted by Gowling LLP was commissioned to advise the council to decide whether there were grounds to take disciplinary action against current employees based on misconduct.
It is worth noting that many of the employees referenced in the Jay report have either retired or moved on to other employment.
The outcome? None of the employees investigated, a number of whom refused to co-operate with the investigation, were found to be guilty of any “culpable behaviour” that would warrant disciplinary action or a review of their local government pensions.
In the word of the author Mark Greenburgh, the response of the council to issues of child grooming, rape and torture was “more cock-up than conspiracy”. This is an exceptionally poor choice of words. It calls to mind a hapless series of events, a course of action where no real harm was done.
It is true that at that time knowledge of CSE was in its infancy, but what the report fails to acknowledge is the number of reports, presentations and training sessions that myself and others delivered to raise awareness of the issue locally.
And even if the complexities and nuances of the abuse were not recognised, we were sharing information on a daily, weekly and monthly basis about the emotional, physical and sexual abuse of vulnerable children, many of them in the care of the local authority.
There was medical evidence of sexual activity with underage children, with adult men often being the father of teenage pregnancies. Physical injuries that in some cases required hospital treatment. Children being found and sometimes arrested in the homes of adult men where clearly those children were at serious risk of harm.
Trauma upon trauma upon trauma; horror after horror after horror; and most of it beyond the imagination of ordinary citizens. But it didn’t have to be beyond the imagination of professionals in Rotherham because I, and others, were constantly providing details and evidence of it. And yet no action was taken to protect those children and those future victims that were identified as being at risk.
It is interesting to read that a number of those interviewed for the investigation seem to have suffered from significant memory loss. In a report hampered by lack of evidence, it is inevitable that there would be some inconclusive findings.
I do question why aspects of the report were commissioned at all when it was already known and remarked upon in the Jay report that documentary evidence of some of the allegations had been lost, misplaced or otherwise disposed of.
The reality is that the length of time taken – and cost of the investigations – has taken us exactly nowhere in understanding the conduct of those professionals formerly employed by Rotherham Council.
While the findings of the Gowling LLP report are difficult to comprehend and disappointing, but not altogether surprising, my thoughts turn to those who need the answers they need and deserve to move on with their lives.
To simply say that Rotherham Council is a different organisation and has addressed the failings of the past is simply not good enough.
I will be one of the few scrutinising and responding to each report and will continue to raise difficult and uncomfortable questions about the past failings of those professionals in Rotherham.
I will do so because those who experienced unimaginable abuse in Rotherham deserve to know the truth and to see those who so badly let them down brought to account.
A few weeks after the reports were published at a total cost of £440,000 to the taxpayer, I cannot escape the thought – how much preventative work for vulnerable children, and support for victims of child sex abuse, could that money have funded in the area?