OPPOSITION leader Ed Miliband today talked of his deep regret about the Rotherham child exploitation scandal and how “a Labour council didn’t do the right things and didn’t take the action that was necessary”.
Mr Miliband was responding to a question about the events in Rotherham when he spoke to an audience of mainly students at Sheffield Hallam University students union today.
The Jay Report last year found at least 1,400 children had been sexually exploited by gangs of men in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013 and was scathing about failures by both the police and the local council to tackle the problem.
A young woman who said she was Amy, from Rotherham, asked the leader of the Opposition: “How can my generation trust your party to ensure child safety at a national level when a Labour council in Rotherham couldn’t even cope and how can we prevent future atrocities occurring?”
Mr Miliband said: “It was terrible what happened in Rotherham.
“And lots and lots of young people were terribly let down, including by Labour representatives.
“I deeply regret that that happened and we’ve got to learn the lessons of it.
“We’ve got to learn the lessons of it as a party - and we’ve taken some action in terms of some of the people who were there at the time.
“We’ve got to learn the lessons also as a country because these aren’t just failings that were in Rotherham, they were failings right across many, many walks of life.”
Mr Miliband said he hoped the planned national inquiry into child abuse would give victims a chance to tell their stories.
He said: “I couldn’t be clearer about the sense of regret I feel about what happened in Rotherham and that a Labour council didn’t do the right things and didn’t take the action that was necessary.”
The scandal which began with Professor Alexis Jay’s report in August led to a range of resignations.
The Labour leader of Rotherham Council, Roger Stone, was the first to go, followed after weeks of public criticism by the party’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) for South Yorkshire, Shaun Wright.
But the party went on to win the subsequent PCC by-election following Mr Wright’s resignation.
Other casualties of the scandal were the chief executive of the council, Martin Kimber, and its director of children’s services, Joyce Thacker.
Labour suspended four councillors in the wake of the revelations in the Jay Report and a party inquiry is going on.
Louise Casey is leading an inquiry into the council’s actions, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating police officers’ actions, and the National Crime Agency is now investigating the exploitation.