Tom Richmond: Police tsar in denial is damned by his own words

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SOUTH Yorkshire’s under-fire police and crime commissioner stands damned by his own shameful words of complacency after Shaun Wright appeared to be in denial about his role in the Rotherham sex grooming scandal that saw 1,400 under-age youngsters sexually abused and groomed by Pakistani gangs over 16 years.

“I was not aware of the scale of the problem,” declared Mr Wright in a tetchy interview in which he appeared to overlook the fact that he headed the children’s services committee from 2005 until 2010 when the council, police and others are said to have put their own politically-correct “agendas and prejudices” before the plight of those young victims whose allegations were treated with such contempt.

These 10 words are so negligent, and so indicative of the corrosive breakdown of personal accountability in national and local politics, that Labour leader Ed Miliband should now show some backbone and demand the resignation of this inept individual.

The reason could not be more clear cut. If Mr Wright, who became crime commissioner in 2012, did not know about the abuse allegations – and the forensically detailed reports that were presented to Rotherham Council, South Yorkshire Police and other agencies – he is not qualified, in my opinion, to hold high office.

If, however, Mr Wright did know about the dossiers, and failed to offer a sufficiently robust response, it is impossible for him to command the confidence of his residents.

At this rate, Roger Stone – the leader of Rotherham Council from 2003 – will be in the running for a statesman of the year nomination after quitting at the very moment that the widely-respected social worker Professor Alexis Jay confirmed that no public servant had been disciplined over one of Britain’s biggest ever child abuse failures.

In defending the indefensible, Mr Wright clung to the fact that he was only in charge of children’s services for five years – and that this scandal lasted for 16 years. That may be so, but Mr Wright was already on the council in 2004-05 when the authority was told that “children as young as 12” were being sexually abused through the “exercise of control through drugs, rape and physical force”, and the predatory role of Asian grooming gangs.

If Mr Wright was out of the loop, and I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt in this instance, he was chairman of the relevant committee in 2006 when Rotherham Council received another update from strategic drugs analyst Dr Angie Heal when she described the situation in Rotherham “as continuing ‘as it has done for a number of years’, with an established child sexual exploitation (CSE) scene ...[involving] systematic physical and sexual violence against young women”.

She also spoke of “young women being trafficked to other towns” before highlighting “the level of intimidation, physical beatings and rape amongst exploited girls and suggesting the ethnicity of the perpetrators prevented the allegations being taken seriously.

I would have thought this would have been sufficient to set alarm bells ringing. Yet, by maintaining the pretence that he had not seen this report because it had, in fact, been passed to Rotherham’s child safeguarding board, Mr Wright is again damned by his own words.

If he was an effective cabinet member for children’s services, he should have made it his business to find out about Dr Heal’s conclusions. By pleading ignorance he left the impression that he is just another career politician who puts self-preservation first.

Both defences are undermined by Prof Heal’s own observations of Mr Wright’s involvement. Please excuse the jargon as I repeat the relevant passage in full: “The Lead Member for CYP (2005 - 2010), who later became the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, was aware of CSE from the outset of his tenure, and believed that reports on the subject which he regularly received as Lead Member were taken seriously and acted upon by the council in conjunction with the police.

“This was stated in his written evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2013, where he also stated that race was never presented to him by staff or agencies as an obstacle to investigating offences.”

If Mr Wright knew about sex grooming, why did he just assume that the relevant officers would take the necessary action? Did he not think, as an elected councillor in charge of an important committee, that it was his duty to follow up on these reports? Clearly not.

This is a consequence when town halls become one-party states – Labour in Rotherham’s case – because there are insufficient opposition councillors to stand up for the public interest.

There are also questions to be asked about the role of the parents of the 1,400 children who were abused, but how can they even be reminded of their obligations when Mr Wright is so reluctant to accept his culpability?

Until he resigns, it will be impossible to begin the process of holding to account those social workers and police officers who betrayed young people for 16 years – or Rotherham even being able to move on from a shameful scandal which becomes even more shocking with every fresh account from a victim condemned to a lifetime of anguish because no one in a position authority listened to them during their hour of need. This is why Shaun Wright’s position is now untenable.