Labour distanced itself from council in choosing new Rotherham MP

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LABOUR was already distancing itself from Rotherham Council when the party selected its candidate in 2012, The Yorkshire Post has been told.

The Labour Party sought a clean break in 2012 following the resignation of disgraced former MP Denis McShane, with the National Executive Committee using the by-election to bring in Sarah Champion, who was then chief executive at Bluebell Wood Children’s Hospice in the town and unconnected with the council.

Outgoing chief executive Martin Kimble (left) during a meeting of Rotherham council's cabinet at Rotherham town hall

Outgoing chief executive Martin Kimble (left) during a meeting of Rotherham council's cabinet at Rotherham town hall

The decision prompted many local councillors to walk out of the selection process. One insider said he was told at the time that Labour did not want anyone who would be linked to the council and the abuse case at the election.

Labour has strongly denied claims the abuse concerns were a factor when selecting an election candidate.

The revelation comes as further pressure was heaped on embattled police commissioner Shaun Wright to quit, with Sheffield Council passing a unanimous vote of no confidence in him

Last night Bassetlaw Labour MP John Mann said the party had done “exactly the right thing” when it selected Ms Champion, who has led outrage at the repeated failings which led to 1,400 girls being abused by gangs of mainly Asian men over at least 16 years.

Mr Mann went on to say the party must now ensure no one connected to the abuse failings ever stands for Labour.

He said: “This outrageous scandal and Labour’s role in it provides the opportunity for a clean sweep.

“Every Rotherham Labour councillor selection should be opened out into a community selection, with any Labour voter wishing to stand being approved by the national party and be put to a primary ballot of Labour voters – although new blood will also emerge.

“Let the people decide who best should represent them, bringing in new faces, endorsed by the public and deliberately tear up the old-style Tammany Hall selection procedures that have helped put the Rotherham Labour party where it is today.”

The call for a stronger approach to party selection came as Rotherham councillors met to discuss the Jay report into abuse.

Deputy council leader Paul Lakin apologised again for what happened in the town at the beginning of a packed meeting of the council’s ruling Labour cabinet.

He said: “We have all been appalled by the terrible contents of this report.

“It is with a deep sense of regret that we are here today to discuss how, in the past, as a council, we badly let down young people and families we were here to protect.”

As councillors gathered at the town hall a 17-year-old girl was protesting outside the meeting, saying she was sexually exploited in the town when she was as young as 12, and was even arrested by police who found her with a man 10 years older than her.

The teenager described how she was abused for a number of years by men who groomed her using social media, and raped her in Rotherham, Sheffield and Doncaster.

The girl said none of the men who abused her have ever been arrested or prosecuted.

In Sheffield, councillors from all political parties were united in calling for Mr Wright’s immediate resignation, claiming his job is now untenable.

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore said: “It has become quite clear that the public don’t feel they have confidence in the police and crime commissioner.”

In response, Mr Wright issued a statement which said: “I’ve had many messages of support, many of which are from partners, encouraging me to remain and to continue my work on prioritising and tackling the extremely important issue of Child Sexual Exploitation.”

The scandal was yesterday again raised in parliament as Ms Champion renewed calls for a national abuse inquiry to finally have a chair appointed.

The prime minister said a decision would be made in the coming days.