Yorkshire MP warns racism fears must be put to one side in battle to stop child sex grooming gangs

Yorkshire MP Sarah Champion has today spoken of the need to acknowledge that the "majority of perpetrators have been British-Pakistani" in the towns where grooming cases against young girls have occurred.

Rotherham MP Sarah Champion fears people "more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse".

The Labour MP for Rotherham, called for more Government research and added that the lack of action is because people are "more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse".

A total of 17 men and one woman were convicted of or admitted charges including rape, supplying drugs and inciting prostitution, in a series of trials at Newcastle Crown Court yesterday as Newcastle joined a growing list of English towns and cities where sex rings have been exposed, including in Rotherham and Rochdale.

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Champion, the shadow women and equalities secretary, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've got now hundreds of men, Pakistani men, who have been convicted of this crime - why are we not commissioning research to see what's going on and how we need to change what's going on so it never happens again?"

She said every time she speaks about the issue, the level of Islamophobia increases, adding: "The far right will attack me for not doing enough, the floppy left will have a go at me for being a racist.

"But this isn't racist, this is child protection and we need to be grown-up about this and deal with it."

Ms Champion said the prosecutions and convictions of grooming gangs are "predominantly Pakistani men", adding: "If it was people from a particular town that was doing this crime across the country, if it was people from - I don't know - a motorbike gang doing this, we'd recognise that as an indicator and we'd deal with it - but we're just not dealing with it."

Asked why, Ms Champion said: "I genuinely think it's because people are more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse.

"I know in Rotherham I've met frontline social workers who, when - we're talking 10 years ago - they were trying to report this crime, were sent on race relations courses, they were told they were going to have disciplinary action if they didn't remove the fact they were identifying the person as a Pakistani male.

"This is still going on in our towns now, I know it's still going on but we're still not addressing it."

Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman said men from a wide range of communities have been arrested by his force and convicted, including white men, Turkish men and Pakistani men.

He told the BBC: "I think the fundamental issue here is, somewhere along the line, in some communities, we've got to the point where it's acceptable for people to behave in this manner and that's where we need to focus the efforts if we're going to prevent this happening in the future.

"It has to be driven out in terms of its social acceptability."

Moral dilemma

Ashman hit back at "untrue" claims that a convicted child rapist paid to help snare a paedophile gang was placed "in the midst" of vulnerable women and girls.

He accepted officers faced a "moral dilemma" over the £10,000 paid to the sex offender, known only as XY, in helping secure convictions.

Responding to criticism - including accusations from an "appalled" NSPCC that police planted the informant - Mr Ashman told BBC Breakfast: "It's quite surprising and disappointing for the NSPCC in particular to adopt the stance they have.

"This is an ill-informed position that they've taken. The fact of the matter is we absolutely did not plant XY, the informant, in the midst of vulnerable women and girls.

"Not only did we not ask him to do it, there's no evidence whatsoever that he was engaged in offending against these victims or anybody else."

He said use of XY was to find who the suspects were, their addresses, and what criminal behaviour they were involved in.

He said: "I absolutely understand that this is challenging for some people but I'm left with a question that I throw back - not to be clever or to evade the issue - what would you do in those circumstances?

"Would you take that risk under carefully managed circumstances, that doesn't expose him to vulnerable women and girls? Is that the right thing to do? Morally does that weigh up? To me, it does.

"Some people might disagree with that, I get that - it's a problem that we wrestle with ourselves - but I've got to be content on the back of 93 convictions, over 300 years of imprisonment, without the verdicts that we received yesterday, this was the right thing to do overall."

Asked whether the informant was necessary to gain convictions, he said: "You might have got that evidence through other means but it might have taken a whole lot longer and that in itself would have exposed vulnerable women and girls - given the scale of this - to an unacceptable level of risk, and personally that doesn't sit comfortably morally with me either."

Grooming gangs not previously examined as 'rigorously as they might have been'

Former Crown Prosecution Service chief Lord Macdonald of River Glaven said he believes cases of Asian grooming gangs targeting white girls were not previously examined as "rigorously as they might have been".

He now believes this is no longer the case, with recent successful prosecutions showing the "so-called taboos" no longer exist.

He added that all communities need to recognise it is a "profoundly racist crime".

The Liberal Democrat peer's remarks came after 18 people were convicted of or admitted offences in a series of trials related to child sexual exploitation in Newcastle.

Lord Macdonald, an ex-director of public prosecutions, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think there has been in the past a reluctance to investigate a category of crime that people might believe attaches to a particular community in circumstances where men may be targeting young women..."

Presenter John Humphrys, intervening, said: "In other words, we're talking about - by and large - Muslim men who have been targeting white girls?"

Lord Macdonald said: "Yes, exactly."

Mr Humphrys added: "In other words, we've allowed political correctness - if that's the right expression - to interfere with the course of justice?"

Lord Macdonald replied: "I think that's no longer the case and I think the fact that these sorts of cases are now being brought successfully demonstrates that those sorts of so-called taboos no longer exist - but I don't think any of us can pretend that in the past these cases have been examined as rigorously as they might have been."

He added he hopes this has changed, noting: "There's obviously a serious issue about the way young women are regarded in these cases - regarded as trash, regarded as available for sex, and this seems to be a recurring theme - and I don't think anyone thinks now we've got it.

"This is a major problem, it's a major problem in particular communities and it has to be confronted not just by law enforcement but by communities themselves."

Lord Macdonald said he expects more cases, adding he is sure there are ongoing investigations.

He said: "I think it's a real wake-up call for communities. Not all sex crime takes place in a single community, of course we know that, that's obvious.

"But there is a particular issue about some men in some communities who feel these young girls are trash who are available for sex.

"We all know that, we've seen it in this case, we've seen it in other cases, we know it's going on as we speak.

"Law enforcement has a response, the police have a response, prosecutors have a response, judges have a response, but communities need a response themselves."