THE author of the damning report into Rotherham Council has told of her personal sadness at hearing the stories of abused girls the authorities failed to protect.
Louise Casey told The Yorkshire Post she had expected to find a council working to rectify the child protection failings identified by Professor Alexis Jay last year but instead was faced with officers and councillors intent on proving she was wrong.
The Government adviser revealed the culture of denial about the problem was so strong that she had to revisit elements of the Jay report on sexual abuse in Rotherham herself to establish its accuracy beyond doubt.
“I’ve worked in the public sector a long time, I’ve worked for charities, directly with homeless people,” she said.
“The authorities, both the police and local authority, knew what was happening to those girls and nobody disputed in a way the harm that was done to those children.
“I listened to victims and we did big audits of case files. What happened to them happened, they weren’t protected enough and also the perpetrators weren’t stopped.
“I think I found that quite difficult as somebody from the public sector. That was really tough, actually, that was very personally difficult.”
Ms Casey was asked to inspect Rotherham Council following the Jay report last year and her experiences left her convinced that nothing short of a major transformation was needed.
Her verdict was Rotherham is “not fit for purpose”, that the council has an “archaic culture of sexism, bullying and discomfort around race” and has “ineffective leadership and management” in addition to its failure to address the findings of the Jay report.
“The problem is it’s no single individual in all of these circumstances. Terrible things happened in Rotherham over a pretty sustained period of time despite endless inspections from Ofsted and many others. Children still aren’t safe enough,” she said.
“There was a sense really they didn’t accept what had happened and I feel if you don’t accept a problem its really hard to make it right, there’s something logical about that.
“That’s why really I felt the council’s leadership didn’t look at what was happening in front of them, they didn’t act on child sexual exploitation, they didn’t ask enough questions, they didn’t follow through.”
She added: “The staff, the residents, the victims, the children of Rotherham really need a wholesale change.
“The cabinet have stood down today and I have to say I wholly respect them for doing that, that can’t have been easy and if that is an acceptance of the problem, an acceptance of their collective responsibility, good for them quite frankly.”
Despite the damning nature of her report, Ms Casey expressed confidence that Rotherham’s problems could be addressed relatively quickly.
“This doesn’t have to take five years, it doesn’t have to take three, it doesn’t have to take two years.
“There are some things that could be done now to improve the situation of victims in Rotherham or give the people of Rotherham a greater sense of trust and confidence in the borough council.”
She said the motivation to do the right thing by children would be a powerful motivating factor.
And Ms Casey was also keen to stress the hard work and dedication of frontline staff in the council.
“The most important thing for me is I met countless staff in Rotherham that are toiling away trying to do a good job who must look above them and think ‘where the hell is management, where the hell is leadership?’ They are not setting out to do anything other than the right thing.”