Watchdog report was a witch hunt says shamed Rotherham council ex-boss

THE former leader of the council in crisis-hit Rotherham has said a damning report into the failures of the authority felt “like a witch hunt”.

Rotherham Council ex-leader Roger Stone. Picture: Ross Parry Agency

Roger Stone said he also believed the council’s leadership “is being blamed so vociferously” to avoid other agencies, including central government, taking “collective responsibility” for the child sexual exploitation (CSE) scandal in the South Yorkshire town.

Mr Stone told MPs yesterday how he had not considered handing back his OBE following the disclosures about how 1,400 children were raped, trafficked and groomed in Rotherham, telling them he was told by senior officials the problem was being dealt with.

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Today, Mr Stone’s written evidence to the committee gave more details about his attempts to battle CSE.

In the statement, the former Labour councillor described his shock at the “vitriol” in the review by Louise Casey, which was published last month.

The Casey Report was a withering indictment of a council in total denial and led to Communities Secretary ordering Government-appointed commissioners to take over the running of Rotherham.

He said: “It does feel like a witch hunt and not a fair and evidenced assessment of the governance capabilities of Rotherham or a rigorous exposition of the failures on CSE set in context.

Mr Stone also criticised Mr Pickles’s decision.

He said: “To impose commissioners on the basis of a short review which was dealing with historic issues is not serving the interests of local democracy. Because of the horrific nature of the crimes involved there has been little challenge of what has happened.”

The former council leader said: “There are accountability issues for Central Government as health, criminal justice including Police and CPS have all been part of the ‘collective failure’ of Rotherham.

“This is in my view why Rotherham’s local leadership is being blamed so vociferously to avoid any collective responsibility. It is how local and national systems have come together which is in part responsible. It is why there are issues from Southampton to Cumbria and crimes from Derby to Oxford to Reading.”

Mr Stone resigned moments after the publication of the Jay Report in August last year.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report provoked nationwide shock when it outlined how at least 1,400 children had been subjected to CSE in Rotherham.

Mr Stone said in his statement that this equates to 9% of all children in the town aged between 10 and 16-years-old and that this would equate to more than 500,000 children in England.

He said: “I accept full responsibility as leader of Rotherham Authority for the way CSE was handled during the period September 2003-14 and the Jay report’s criticisms of our lack of protection of young people in Rotherham, which was the reason I resigned immediately as leader of Rotherham on the report’s release.”

Mr Stone also said that the “uncomfortable truth” was that Rotherham is no different from many other places in the country.

He said: “I regret the demonisation of the town and the effect on local people.

“Great attempts have been made to portray Rotherham as ‘different’ both to justify the removal of the democratic rights of the people of the town and to avoid having to face the uncomfortable truth that if Rotherham isn’t different then the issue of child sexual exploitation is bigger than people think and that the challenges of dealing with it are also not being met across the country.

“I am deeply saddened at what has happened in my town, where I still live, to children and young people that I have always sought to protect.

“The uncomfortable truth is that Rotherham is no different from many other places.”

Referring to a 2014 Ofsted report, he said: “These issues highlight systemic failure across the country and are not the product of wilful neglect in Rotherham or the culture of leadership for that matter.

“It would seem nowhere has got it right yet. It is wrong to pillory the first places where the issues are opened up as if it is somewhere unique which is what this report is saying too.”

He said; “I was stunned by the numbers set out in the Jay report and the detail of the abuse outlined and the vitriol of the Casey ‘review’. I do feel I should have known and done more but I think it’s important to have an honest appraisal of what happened and why it happened and not just make accusations which are mostly vague and unsubstantiated.”

He said: “Given the scale of the issue I thought our action proportionate. In the entire firestorm I don’t believe there was a cover up. I was told there was not enough evidence for the CPS to proceed. I had no evidence to contradict this. Nor has any been suggested.”