Ex-Rotherham council chief faces probe on grooming scandal

Ged Fitzgerald. Below: Councillor Joe Anderson.
Ged Fitzgerald. Below: Councillor Joe Anderson.
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ROTHERHAM COUNCIL’S former top officer is to be questioned by his current boss over what he knew about the town’s sex abuse scandal.

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said he would speak to Ged Fitzgerald, Rotherham’s chief executive from 2001 to 2003 and now in the same role in the Merseyside city, about what he knew about a Home Office report that revealed widespread sexual abuse of under-age girls.

Councillor Joe Anderson.

Councillor Joe Anderson.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report on the abuse scandal said the reaction of senior police and council figures to Angie Heal’s critical 2003 report “led to suspicions of collusion and cover-up”, with the researcher accused of exaggerating her findings.

In a statement, Mr Anderson said: “I note and am concerned that the Jay Report criticises Rotherham council for not taking the earlier Heal Report (often referred to as the Home Office Report) seriously, and will discuss these matters with Mr Fitzgerald as soon as possible.

“ I will be seeking clarification as to whether he was aware of the Heal Report.

“Further, I also note that the Jay report is non-specific and does not name people. I will be seeking further clarification from Alexis Jay and others at Rotherham about Mr Fitzgerald’s role.”

Mr Anderson added that he backed calls for a public inquiry into the scandal, which saw more than 1,400 children abused over a 16-year period from 1997 to 2013.

He said: “In conclusion, I want to reassure people in the city of Liverpool that child protection and safeguarding our children is of paramount importance to me and this administration.

“We will always put our children’s safety first.”

It is understood that Mr Fitzgerald, also a former chief executive of Lancashire County Council, is away on holiday.

Rotherham’s current chief executive Martin Kimber today said he could find no evidence of an alleged raid by council staff on one of their own offices to remove evidence of the extent of the town’s sex abuse crisis.

The Times reported that the offices of Risky Business, a youth project that worked with vulnerable young people, was targeted in 2002. It alleged that the only material and files removed were those used by Dr Heal to produce draft chapters of her report, which had been passed to officials in the town,

Mr Kimber said: “The alleged ‘raid’ on the Risky Business office is not something that I am aware of and having made appropriate checks within the council, I am unable to find anyone who recognises this series of events as they have been presented to us.

“Similarly, I have been unable to find any reference within the Alexis Jay report to the alleged incident and have no other independent means of corroborating the allegations that are being put forward. If further information is made available which enables me to do so, I would be happy to look into it.”

Earlier an Australian abuse victims’ advocate called on Rotherham’s former director of children’s services to step down from her current job in that country.

Andrew Collins said Dr Sonia Sharp’s role as a deputy secretary in the state of Victoria’s education department, which she has held since 2012, was inappropriate. She has been publicly backed by her employer.

Dr Sharp, who worked in Rotherham from 2005 to 2008, apologised to abuse victims yesterday and said staff were aware that “many” children were at risk. She said she wished she could have done more but insisted she had helped improve things during her tenure.

But Mr Collins told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Knowing that she is involved in the education department in the state of Victoria as a deputy secretary, I thought this woman should not be involved, have any involvement, around children.

“She should either resign or be stood down from her position.

“It is not good enough to say ‘I’m sorry’. There’s families and children whose lives will forever be altered and if somebody could have stopped that or done anything about that, it is just not good enough.”

Beverley and Holderness MP Graham Stuart today asked East Riding Council what steps it is taking to investigate Pam Allen’s performance at Rotherham.

Ms Allen was director of safeguarding at Rotherham Council from 2004 until 2009, during the years when warnings were ignored about the sexual exploitation of at least 1,400 children by gangs of men.

In a letter Mr Stuart, the chairman of the education select committee, questioned the council’s chief executive Nigel Pearson whether he plans to review Ms Allen’s “suitability” for her current post as Head of Children and Young People Support and Safeguarding Services - given the “multiple devastating failures of child safeguarding documented in Professor Jay’s report.”

Prof Jay’s report detailed gang rapes, grooming, trafficking and other sexual exploitation on a wide scale in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

Prof Jay has said that given the information available to agencies by April 2005 “nobody could say ‘I didn’t know.’”

Mr Stuart said: “In light of the multiple devastating failures of child safeguarding documented in Professor Jay’s report, I would be grateful if you could let me know – in a form that can be published – what steps you are taking to investigate Ms Allen’s performance as the responsible council officer in Rotherham.

“In particular, please keep me informed as to whether you plan to review Ms Allen’s suitability for her current position.

“If it is the case that she bears a serious level of responsibility for the situation that was allowed to develop in Rotherham, it is highly doubtful whether Ms Allen should be entrusted with a similar safeguarding role in the East Riding, or indeed in any local authority.”

Earlier this week Labour MP for Sheffield East Clive Betts said it was “astounding” that there had been no disciplinary procedures against any officers.

The council has so far refused to comment.

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