Powerful should be accountable after Rotherham's CSE scandal - Bill Carmichael

“Lessons have been learned”. How many times have we heard that comforting phrase over recent years following evidence of appalling sexual abuse of young girls by grooming gangs in Yorkshire and towns and cities across the country?

Pic: JPIMedia.

“Mistakes were made, but things are much better now” we are told. But are they? I am afraid the evidence suggests large scale abuse of children by grooming gangs continues to this very day, and the lack of accountability from police and social services – precisely those charged with protecting vulnerable children – is nothing short of shocking.

For example this week a report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct revealed that not a single South Yorkshire Police officer had lost their job as a result of a seven-year investigation into corruption and misconduct during the Rotherham sex abuse scandal.

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The IOPC said 47 officers were investigated with eight found to have a case to answer for misconduct, and six for gross misconduct. But the heaviest sanction so far is a final written warning, and many officers have simply retired to escape disciplinary action.

Incredibly the IOPC report states: “We found many instances where crimes were not reported when they should have been, including reports of sexual assault or sexual activity with a child.”

So clearly any notion that this problem has been solved is, sadly, mistaken – the abuse continues. The depressing thing is that the report into child sexual abuse in Rotherham, written by Professor Alexis Jay in 2014, offered the perfect opportunity to finally get to grips with this problem.

It is worth reminding ourselves of the shocking nature of Professor Jay’s findings. In a forensic analysis she detailed how an estimated 1,400 children – overwhelmingly white, working class girls – were beaten and raped between 1997 and 2013.

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Social services failed miserably to protect the children, turning a blind eye for fear of being accused of racism. Some staff remembered being told by their bosses not to mention the ethnicity of the perpetrators.

But the response of South Yorkshire Police was as bad, if not worse. Senior officers not only ignored reports of abuse, but actively tried to suppress them. The Jay Report details how senior police officers blamed the victims for their abuse, seeing them as undesirables, unworthy of protection, who deliberately put themselves at risk. In one example, a CID officer argued that the rape of a 12-year-old girl by two adult males was “100 per cent consensual”.

Fathers who tracked down the addresses where their children were being prostituted, and tried to rescue them, were in two cases arrested when police were called, and the criminals allowed to continue their trade.

One 12-year-old was found by police drunk in a car with a man who had indecent photographs of her on his phone. A few weeks later she was found in a derelict house with a gang of men. This time she was arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

If families did manage to rescue their children, they were subject to vicious intimidation from the grooming gangs, with family members beaten up, windows of their houses smashed and threatening phone calls.

One family of a trafficked girl decided to have nothing more to do with the police because “they won’t do anything”.

It is hard to escape the conclusion that far from preventing the abuse, the police simply ignored it. Yet we are expected to believe that no one is to blame beyond a final written warning?

And it is not just Rotherham. In July an independent review into child sex abuse in Bradford concluded that some children “remain unprotected, while some perpetrators remain unknown and unchallenged”. Sound familiar?

Yet calls by the victims, supported by Keighley and Ilkley MP Robbie Moore, for a Rotherham-style public enquiry, have been rejected by Bradford council which insists – yes, you guessed it – that lessons have been learned. This isn’t good enough.

Unless those in positions of power are made fully accountable for their actions, things will not improve, and we will continue to fail some of the most vulnerable people in society.