LAST month, a report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) censured local authorities for failing to investigate networks sexually exploiting children. Lessons have not been learnt from prosecutions of ‘grooming’ gangs who tortured tens of thousands of children throughout the 1990s and 2000s. Unless dark chapters are re-examined and complicit authorities of the past are punished, this will persist.
February’s review looked at six local authority areas not previously covered by previous investigations. It found Durham recorded sex between prepubescent girls and men in their twenties as ‘consensual’. St Helens labelled children ‘promiscuous’. Tower Hamlets described predators as ‘boyfriends’. In the aftermath of abuse, help isn’t offered. Ten-year-olds plied with narcotics who contract STIs are merely deemed ‘at risk’.
There is widespread failure to record perpetrators’ ethnicity. ‘A misplaced sense of political correctness’ was posited as an explanation. Considering Labour’s desperate denials of Muslim (particularly Pakistani) overrepresentation in grooming (ignoring study after study), it’s no surprise that five of the six councils criticised are Labour strongholds.
The Jay Report found at least 1,400 children were molested in Rotherham between 1997- 2013. In 2006 a Conservative councillor requested a meeting with Roger Stone, the Rotherham Council Labour Leader, at which he expressed his constituents’ worries about the widespread grooming of their children. He was told that the matters were being dealt with and asked not to raise the issue publicly. Jayne Senior, a former youth worker, broached the subject but was met with ‘indifference and scorn’.
Because perpetrators were predominantly British-Pakistanis, several councillors believed addressing this could ‘give oxygen’ to racism. There were fears about the BNP which had weaponised the issue, winning two council seats in 2008. Addressing the problem head-on could have allowed Rotherham Labour to steal the far-right’s thunder, restoring trust in the mainstream. Instead, council workers remembered ‘sweeping it under the carpet,’ ‘turning a blind eye’ and ‘keeping a lid on it.’ One interviewee recalled, ‘the people above just didn’t want to know.’
Extreme PC culture may explain Labour-run council conduct. But did this extend to police, who didn’t seriously investigate grooming gangs for over a decade?
Between the ages of 11-16, Cassie Pike was trafficked around England and raped by over 100 men. West Yorkshire Police arrested her, not her abusers. When she was fed with A-class drugs to force sex, police issued her a warning for possession. After getting into a groomer’s car, Cassie was arrested for facilitating a child sex crime!
Following the death of Victoria Agogolia, a 15-year-old girl living in a care home run by Manchester City Council, who was injected with heroin by a 50-year-old Asian man, Greater Manchester Police finally took action. Operation Augusta was launched in February 2004 to tackle sexual exploitation of children in the city. The investigation identified at least 57 victims – mainly white girls aged between 12 to 16 and some 97 ‘persons of interest’ across the Greater Manchester region. Intelligence suggests they were predominantly Asian men working in the restaurant industry. But senior officers deprived the Operation of resources, before shutting it down completely in July 2005. It led to seven men being warned, charged or convicted.
Did separate police forces independently come to the same conclusion about handling grooming gangs? Or were they all following the same instructions?
In 2018 Nazir Afzal, North West England’s Chief Crown Prosecutor from 2011-2015, told the BBC: ‘In 2008 the Home Office sent a circular to all police forces in the country saying, as far as these young girls who are being exploited in towns and cities, we believe that they have made an informed choice about their sexual behaviour and therefore it’s not for you police officers to get involved. That’s the landscape coming from the top-down in 2008. Rest assured, all agencies are going to listen to it.’
Considering Labour were in power between 1997- 2010, this circular could be the puzzle’s missing piece. It would explain why cover-ups appeared co-ordinated. It would explain why the government received information about the scale of abuse in Rotherham in 2002 but did nothing. It would explain why police didn’t orchestrate mass arrests of groomers until Labour left office.
If Afzal’s allegation is true, much remains unclear. What record of the circular exists? Was it authored/approved by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith? Was there other communication between government and local bodies? What was the role of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair? How could they not have been involved? These questions require police investigations.
Concealing crimes is arrestable under the Criminal Law Act 1967: ‘Where a person has committed a relevant offence, any other person who, knowing or believing that the offence has been committed, and that he has information which might be of material assistance in securing the prosecution or conviction of an offender for it, accepts or agrees to accept for not disclosing that information.’ It can carry two years’ imprisonment.
The High Court can issue a Serious Crime Prevention Order, applicable to anyone ‘who has conducted himself in a way that was likely to facilitate the commission by himself or another person of a serious offence’. Facilitation here means ‘to make easier’. This can require handing over information/documentation to police. Non-compliance can carry five years’ imprisonment.
It often takes a long time for institutions to change, particularly public sector bureaucracies. Local authorities will continue to fail on grooming gangs unless drastic action is taken to break with the past. Seeing former prime ministers and ministers in handcuffs would reaffirm equality before the law, deliver justice to victims and send a powerful message: Anyone who facilitates child abuse will be held accountable.