Denial after denial in abuse case

THE MAN who led Rotherham Council while hundreds of girls were being abused has been accused of refusing to accept a mountain of evidence that his leadership failed.

Former Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone

Former council leader Roger Stone has said he does not agree with parts of the Jay report identifying 1,400 victims of abuse by mostly Asian men during a large period of his 11 years in charge.

“People were in denial about the number. We were stunned with the number,” the former Labour councillor said.

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Mr Stone repeated an apology to the victims when he appeared before MPs on the Commons select committee, but denied there was anything he could have done to prevent abuse, blaming at various times council officials, other councillors and the police.

“There was nothing I could do to stop abuse,” Mr Stone said, adding that much of the abuse was thought to be carried out in the home, and that even Professor Jay “could not stop it when she was in Glasgow”.

In a sometimes confrontational hearing, Mr Stone was accused of acting “as if in a parallel universe”.

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk told the council leader: “There is lots of evidence that you were a big part of the problem but you do not accept any of it.”

Asked what he would change if he could about his time in office, Mr Stone said: “I probably wouldn’t have been a councillor.”

Throughout the hearing Mr Stone said that whenever he was approached with abuse concerns he assumed council officers were acting on them, and said inspections such as those carried out by Ofsted give him confidence that the council was on track to solve what problems there were.

The Jay report into his handling of abuse, and subsequent evidence sessions be fore MPs, revealed claims of bullying and sexism by Mr Stone, making it impossible for concerned officials to tackle the abuse problems gripping the town.

Mr Stone denied he created a “macho” atmosphere at the council, saying that while he had “argued with some, rowed with some, fallen out with some” of his officials, he was “a strong leader”.

He went on to say he had regrets over a decision to takeover the Risky Business charity which was at the time the only group listening to abuse victims.

Asked why he failed to keep the group going, Mr Stone again blamed the advice he received from council officials.

“The number of things that take place in a local authority, I couldn’t have my finger on everything,” Mr Stone said. “I became dependent on the professionals.”

The former leader said he believed the council had been targeted for political reasons by the Government, saying a decision last month by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles to appoint five commissioners to run services in the town had “taken democracy away from Rotherham.”

Mr Stone again blamed “politics” when asked if he thought he should return his OBE.

Responding to the suggestion by Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, Mr Stone said: “I don’t accept a number of the things that you’ve asked me of.

“At the end of the day it’s not just about the politics of Rotherham.”

Mr Stone resigned as leader of Rotherham Council moments after the publication of the Jay Report last year which outlined how hundreds of children had been raped, trafficking and groomed in the South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013.

He refused to be interviewed by Louise Casey, who produced a further damning report on the council earlier this year.