Call for law change after Rotherham abuse victim says rapist was invited to have a say on her child's future

Abuse survivor and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse. Photo: Scott Merrylees
Abuse survivor and campaigner Sammy Woodhouse. Photo: Scott Merrylees

Ministers could act "today" to stop rapists and abusers having a say on the future of children they are at risk of harming, according to Rotherham MP Sarah Champion.

Ms Champion was speaking after campaigner and survivor of the Rotherham child exploitation scandal Sammy Woodhouse called for a law change amid claims that the man who raped her as a teenager was invited by a council to play a role in her son’s life.

In a video viewed almost half a million times on social media, Miss Woodhouse said she was calling on the Government to change the law “to ensure that rapists can’t gain access to children conceived through rape and abuse”.

She said: “This is happening all over the country and it needs to stop.”

Labour MP Ms Champion told the BBC: “A minster, by the end of today, could sign off new guidance on this that makes it crystal clear that any rapist, any abuser, anyone that is an ongoing risk to a child, does not have the right to comment on their future. They could do that today but they don’t.

“They sort of shove it out to the councils to make their interpretations and then just sit back and go, ‘oh well, it’s up to the councils, they interpreted it wrong’.

“It shouldn’t be about interpretation, it should be black and white.”

The MP said her reaction to Miss Woodhouse’s story was “just utter disgust, incredulity and, for me, it’s just another example of how victims are re-traumatised again and again by the system that’s actually designed to protect them”.

“And I’ve now got to the point where I wonder if, actually, the law does favour perpetrators rather than the victims because this sort of thing keeps on happening.”

Miss Woodhouse spoke out after The Times revealed that Arshid Hussain - the ringleader of a notorious child abuse gang who was jailed for 35 years in 2016 - was told by Rotherham Council that he could seek visits from Miss Woodhouse’s child as part of a legal process.

The newspaper said Hussain, the boy’s father, was listed as a respondent in a family court case involving the child and was therefore contacted by the local authority, which promised to keep him informed of future proceedings. It said that, during a hearing last year, the boy’s mother was told the convicted sex offender would be allowed to attend court and make legal representations.

The story had initially been anonymised, but Miss Woodhouse revealed that the child involved is her son in a video on Twitter.

A Rotherham Council spokesman said on Tuesday night that it could not disclose information relating to proceedings in the family court, adding: “Like all councils we must comply with legal requirements, including practice directions, and that would include giving notice of proceedings to parents with or without formal parental responsibility.

“Often and understandably, cases before the family court are emotive and arouse strong feelings amongst those affected.

“We do understand that the legal requirements can cause upset to those involved and so we welcome a debate around this issue, which applies across England and Wales.”

The Ministry of Justice said local authorities could apply to courts for permission not to notify parents, adding: “This is obviously a very distressing incident and the relevant departments and local authority will work urgently to understand and address the failings in this case.”

Miss Woodhouse was one of the key witnesses in South Yorkshire Police’s Operation Clover investigation which led to a number of Rotherham men being given lengthy jail sentences in 2016, including Arshid Hussain and his three brothers.

She subsequently waived her anonymity and now speaks widely about child sexual exploitation and has written a book about her experiences.

So far, 1,500 potential victims of abuse have been identified in the town, according to the National Crime Agency.

The organisation is running the biggest ever investigation into historic child sexual exploitation, Operation Stovewood, after being called in by South Yorkshire Police.