Ukip's Jane Collins: If we can't protect our kids, we've failed as a society

Jane Collins is the first to admit that she is not politically correct. In her party, that goes with the territory.

UKIP MEP Jane Collins
UKIP MEP Jane Collins

She has, since 2014, been one of Ukip’s two MEPs for Yorkshire and the Humber. She has also twice stood in Rotherham for election to Westminster. The town has been, some might say, her Achilles heel.

It was around 2012, when she threw her hat into the ring at the by-election triggered by the resignation of the disgraced and soon-to-be-jailed Labour politician Denis MacShane, that the town began to turn toxic.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Its officials, it emerged, had for years turned their backs on the organised sexual abuse and exploitation of children on an unprecedented scale. Councillors, police and social workers were implicated. The victims numbered at least 1,400.

Ms Collins was hardly the only onlooker to be horrified at what emerged, but she was alone in publicly accusing - falsely- three of the area’s MPs of complicity.

They sued and won, and earlier this year, in what she says was “a massive, massive learning curve”, she was ordered to pay £358,000 in damages and costs.

“I was a rookie MEP,” she acknowledges, having since brushed up on the laws of parliamentary privilege that usually protect elected members from accusations of defamation. “If I had said it in the European Parliament I would have been fine, but I didn’t. I said it at a conference and that wasn’t fine.”

She was reported at the time to be facing bankruptcy, though she now says that won’t happen. A softening of her views on what went wrong in Rotherham shows no sign of happening, either.

“Those girls in Rotherham, they were betrayed by politically correct cowards, that’s what’s happened to them,” she says, with barely concealed distress.

“People were afraid to say that the perpetrators came from the Pakistani Muslim community because they thought it would have made them racist. It’s rubbish - if you tell the truth you can’t be racist.”

Her uncompromising stance is, perhaps, what most separates her from Sarah Champion, the current Rotherham MP who twice defeated her and who was among the three she defamed. Ms Champion wrote in The Sun in August that “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”, and added: “These people are predators and the common denominator is their ethnic heritage.”

In a Labour Party striving for political correctness, she was forced to apologise for an “extremely poor choice of words” and resign her post as shadow equalities minister. Labour would not, said Jeremy Corbyn, “demonise any particular group”.

Ms Collins, in contrast, dug in. Having told her party’s new leader, Henry Bolton, that she would stand her ground and not “shy away from difficult situations or circumstances”, she handed back her Home Affairs brief to devote her remaining time in Brussels before the British withdrawal to the issue of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and elsewhere.

She had contested Bolton for the party reins back in June, but says that “looking at how much work Henry has had to do, I’m rather glad I didn’t get it”. Bolton polled 20 per cent of the vote compared to her 4.4 per cent.

Her work now, in partnership with charities, will embrace the wider issues of people trafficking across Europe. “Even from Rotherham, girls were trafficked around the UK, and it’s endemic across Europe,” she says.

“But it’s a stigma. People don’t want to talk about it for fear of being accused of targeting different societies - and I think they’ve got to get over that because if we can’t look after our children we have failed as a society, as human beings.”

At the core of her argument is that racial tension would fall, not rise, if each community were to be treated with the same, even hand, and could draw confidence from a properly functioning penal system.

Though she does not suggest that such emotions are exclusively the province of parents, she agrees that her maternal instincts might have bad some bearing.

“If you have had a child, there’s always the feeling that this victim could be your daughter,” she says.

“It’s heartbreaking that we are still tiptoeing around through the real problems. You have to say it as it is - if you have eastern Europeans coming over and running gangs of people, you have to be able to say so.”

Ms Collins has a history of doing just that. Following her election to Brussels, she complained of Sheffield’s “health problem” among what she called the “Roma Slovak community”, where, she said, the incidence of hepatitis B was unusually high.

Health scares were much on her mind at the time - a diagnosis of breast cancer had followed her final tilt at Westminster.

“I had to have my chemo, my radio and it knocked me out for nine months,” she says, adding that she is now “okay”.

She returned to work at about the same time as Prof Alexis Jay’s damning report on the cover-up in Rotherham, which, she says, took her breath away.

“I’ve got myself into an awful lot of trouble, saying what I thought was going on, but I don’t care about that. What I want to do is make to a difference, and it’s not going to stop me from standing my ground.

“You have to face up to what is happening, even if you don’t like saying it. It’s not about victimising a community. It’s about telling the truth.”

Jane Collins’ route to Brussels

BORN in Pontefract in 1962, Jane Collins was a racehorse trainer and equine physiotherapist before entering politics.

She formerly worked with the wife of the controversial and outspoken Ukip politician Godfrey Bloom, who preceded her as a Yorkshire MEP. Prior to her election, Ms Collins had cut her teeth contesting the 2011 by-election in Barnsley, finishing a distant second to Labour’s Dan Jarvis. She went on to fight the following year in Rotherham, and fought the seat again in 2015, taking 30 per cent of the vote.

In both constituencies, the previous Labour incumbents - Eric Illsley in Barnsley and Denis MacShane in Rotherham - had been jailed over offences related to their Commons expenses scandal.

• An earlier version of this article stated that Ms Collins had been a business partner of Mrs Bloom, which was not the case. We apologise for the error.