David Behrens: Even now, Rotherham officials find new ways to fail rape victim Sammy Woodhouse

AT first glance, it beggars belief that a Yorkshire council could have counselled a convicted rapist on visiting rights to the child of his victim.

Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal
Sammy Woodhouse, a survivor of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal

But it should not have been a surprise. Our criminal and social justice system is good at protecting the rights of criminals. It is less so at looking after their victims.

https://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/news/call-for-law-change-after-rotherham-abuse-victim-says-rapist-was-invited-to-have-a-say-on-her-child-s-future-1-9466673|Call for law change after Rotherham abuse victim says rapist invited to have a say on her son’s future|Read here}

The outrage in Rotherham this week is the latest manifestation of a culture which saw the serial rapist John Worboys granted release from an indefinite sentence by the Parole Board earlier this year, on the grounds that he was “no longer a risk to the public”.

It was only after a legal challenge by two of his victims, and the enforced resignation of the Board’s chairman, that the decision was reversed.

Worboys was the so-called “black cab rapist” who was jailed in 2008 for 19 assaults on 12 women. But they were just the tip of a large and ugly iceberg; police believe he may have been guilty of 100 more.

In that respect, there are disturbing parallels with the events in Rotherham.

They concern Arshid Hussain, the ringleader of a gang who groomed, raped and abused some 1,400 teenage girls, while police and council officials turned their backs. He is two years into a 35-year sentence. Last November he was convicted of yet more abuse and was handed another seven years.

Sammy Woodhouse was among his victims. She is 33 now, and has selflessly waived her right to anonymity. She was made pregnant at 14 by Hussain. Plied with drink and drugs, she was raped and threatened at gunpoint.

The extent to which Rotherham Council was complicit in the crimes of Hussain and his gang was laid bare four years ago in a report by Professor Alexis Jay that has hung over the town like a poison cloud.

Social care managers had downplayed the scale and seriousness of the problem, she said, and at least one report that had tried to awaken them was suppressed.

It was political correctness at its worst. The perpetrators were overwhelmingly of Pakistani heritage. The officials did not want to be seen as racist.

On the face of it, this week’s events indicate that the council has learned little.

Its officials contacted Hussain as a “respondent” in a Family Court case involving Ms Woodhouse’s son, and told him he could seek visits from the child.

Why would he want to? Has he acquired a late-flowering paternal interest in the boy’s well-being? Or is he using the courts and the council as weapons to further intimidate his victim? I think we all know the answer to that, and in engaging with him, the social workers are once again playing into his corrosive hands.

And what constructive contribution could someone so devoid of morality make to the boy’s welfare? Contact with him would have been a disaster, Ms Woodhouse said. The council had no clue as to the danger he still posed.

But she is merely his victim. In a situation such as this, it is not her 
views that hold sway. Therein lies the wider problem.

The council has said it was just following the law, although the Ministry of Justice appeared to question its interpretation of it.

So it fell to Helen Newlove, the community reform campaigner whose husband was murdered by three youths in 2007, to inject some perspective.

Rapists should leave their parental rights at the door the moment they commit their crime, she said. Baroness Newlove was made the country’s victims’ advocate in 2012 by a coalition Government that recognised the scales of justice had tipped the wrong way.

The NSPCC was also on the side of sense. Was this a one-off failure or a system-wide problem, it wanted to know.

The key word here is failure. The extent to which Rotherham let down the victims of child sexual exploitation, over prolonged periods and in the face of overwhelming evidence, was on a scale that should have been unimaginable in a civilised society. That it should continue to fail them is unconscionable.

In the wake of the Jay report, the council was stripped of control of its services and placed under Government supervision. It was handed its powers back only two months ago. On the evidence of this week, it does not yet deserve them.