Norman Baker: Rebuilding trust in Rotherham after Wright quits at last
FOR the people of Rotherham, the healing process is just beginning. The road to recovery will be a long and difficult one. This is a proud town in shock, struggling to come to terms with the horror of the outrages inflicted on its children over so many years, while warnings were ignored and clues which should have blared like sirens were missed.
Mercifully, that cathartic journey can now start in earnest. Shaun Wright’s overdue resignation has finally allowed the focus to shift to the 1,400 victims of the most despicable crimes.
Mr Wright argued that he was the best man to right the wrongs, but he had lost public confidence at a time when that commodity was most vital. As the cabinet member for children’s services in Rotherham from 2005 to 2010, Shaun Wright failed the people of Rotherham. His prolonged refusal to stand down has been nothing short of an insult to the victims.
It is so important for a community to have absolute, unshakeable faith in their police and crime commissioner. The forthcoming by-election offers a timely opportunity for the public to select and unite behind their new PCC as they prepare to face the challenges ahead.
Professor Alexis Jay’s report appalled us all. It is a shocking account of the terrible failures by Rotherham Council – and by the police and other agencies – to protect children. The very people in whom we place most trust to look after the vulnerable were guilty of a total dereliction of duty.
Professor Jay estimated 1,400 children were sexually exploited. Many were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities, abducted, beaten, intimidated. As Crime Prevention Minister, I want to make sure those authorities and agencies which failed those children have addressed the alarming mistakes of the past, and have made sufficient improvements to inspire confidence now and in the future.
I want to make sure victims of child sexual exploitation are being identified, that the police and council are doing what they should and that the people who are responsible for these awful acts are brought to justice. This is vital work which must be completed as soon as possible, and I wanted to be certain that its importance and urgency were being taken seriously.
That is why I visited Rotherham on Monday and met Chief Constable David Crompton and the chairman of the local children’s safeguarding board, Stephen Ashley. I am reassured they are both willing and able to make the progress which is needed. Everyone I’ve spoken to in Rotherham appreciates the gravity of this matter.
As a national government, we want to learn the lessons from what happened in Rotherham and make sure we do what we can to prevent a repeat.
I chair the Sexual Violence Against Children and Vulnerable People National Group, which has achieved a number of key objectives already and will continue to contribute to our work to stamp out child sexual exploitation.
It is looking at how best to protect children and vulnerable people, both online and offline; make sure the police can identify and deal with abuse; and ensure victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system.
The coalition Government has ring-fenced nearly £40m for specialist local support services and national helplines, including more than 80 independent sexual violence advisers. We have published updated guidance relating to child sexual abuse for the Crown Prosecution Service and College of Policing, as well as a new Victims’ Code setting out vastly improved support.
We are piloting pre-trial video cross-examination of vulnerable victims, and will roll it out more widely if it proves a success. These changes mean local agencies are now better placed than ever before to make informed decisions about how best to ensure children are protected.
In addition, the Home Secretary is regularly meeting her colleagues from the Department for Communities and Local Government, Department for Education and Department of Health to co-ordinate our cross-government strategy for tackling child sexual exploitation. And eminent lawyer Fiona Woolf will lead an overarching inquiry into whether public bodies and other non-state institutions have taken seriously their duty of care.
Our message could not be clearer – child sexual exploitation is a sickening stain on society which must be erased.
Norman Baker is the Crime Prevention Minister and a Liberal Democrat MP.