The police station in Rotherham. Photo: Getty
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How have MPs dealt with cases like the Rotherham child abuse scandal in the past?

An investigation has found that at least 1,400 children in Rotherham were sexually exploited for 16 years. Blame is flying everywhere, so how have MPs dealt with similar cases in the past?

The news that South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright has resigned from the Labour party, but insists on remaining a PCC independently, has raised important questions about the reaction to the Rotherham child abuse scandal. 

A report, released this week, has found that at least 1,400 children in Rotherham were sexually exploited over a period of nearly a decade between 1997 and 2013. The council leader Roger Stone has already stepped down, and the former chief executive of the council Mike Cuff has said he takes a share of the responsibility for the council’s failure to prevent the crimes. The Home Secretary Theresa May and Rotherham MP Sarah Champion, among other MPs, have called for Wright to resign his position as PCC.

In child abuse cases, there are always sharp questions raised about who should be blamed for failing to protect the victims.

“The case for mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse is now overwhelming,” the former Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer told the BBC’s Today programme this morning, during a discussion about the Rotherham revelations. He suggested that the law – as well as individuals – should come under scrutiny.

But how have MPs dealt with similar situations to Rotherham in the past? Here are two examples:

 

Rochdale child sex ring

It’s important to look at the Rochdale child sex grooming ring, the crimes of which were exposed during the trial of perpetrators in 2012. I went up to Rochdale to interview its Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, a while after the revelations, and he revealed to me how he had approached such a horrific situation in his constituency. First, he told me about the importance of raising the sensitive subject of the ethnicity of the perpetrators. In the Rochdale case, most of them were of Pakistani origin. In the Rotherham case, it was a similar situation.

Danczuk told me:

“I’ve only ever said a very small minority of people in the Asian community have a very unhealthy view of women . . . It’s a complex jigsaw, and ethnicity is just one of the pieces. Class is a major factor, night-time economy is a factor, in terms of this type of on-street grooming, not sexual abuse per se.

“One reason to raise it is so we know how to combat it. The political reason is because it takes the wind out of the sails of the extreme right, because you’ve got a mainstream politician talking about it; you don’t rely on the EDL or the BNP talking about it.”

On the subject of the child sex ring, Danczuk also told me later this year about the acute failure of authorities to protect vulnerable children, and how progress on protecting the young has been intensely slow:

“One of the reasons Cyril Smith [the late former Rochdale MP and child abuser] wasn’t prosecuted in the Sixties was that the Director of Public Prosecutions said ‘they were unreliable witnesses’. What he meant by that was that these poor, white, working-class, vulnerable boys would make unreliable witnesses.

“And you fast-forward 30 or 40 years to the Rochdale grooming scandal and initially the CPS decided not to prosecute, the police weren’t pushing it, social services didn’t really care, and that was because they were poor, white, working-class, vulnerable girls. It upsets me actually. Why haven’t we moved in that 40 years?”

 

Oxford child grooming case

Another similar recent case was the child grooming ring in Oxford; seven men were jailed in 2013 for offences including child rape and trafficking committed between 2004 and 2012.

The MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, Nicola Blackwood, who came to parliament in 2010, told me at the beginning of the summer: “We just didn’t believe that such a thing could happen in Oxford, which is so beautiful, in those surroundings it seemed so alien, that victims have been denied justice too long and just weren’t believed.” My interview with her can be read here.

She added: “The problem with these kinds of allegations is the level of trust in public bodies has plummeted, when it comes to child protection, and if there is any area in which we need to have confidence in public bodies and in one’s state bodies, it is in the protection of children from sexual abuse.”

Blackwood set up the Childhood Lost campaign for the protection of vulnerable children in a response to Oxford’s harrowing “Operation Bullfinch” child exploitation case and other cases like it, and has interesting views about the need to reform the law.

She suggested to me a change in abduction orders to erase a “ludicrous and unacceptable” quirk in the law. Currently, if a child goes missing regularly, and the police know who with, they can issue an abduction order for that person with the permission of the child’s guardian. However, if the child’s in care, they could issue the abduction order up to the age of 18, but if they live at home, they’re only protected up to 16. She also calls for a penalty for those in breach of the order: “if you’re taking a child missing and the police are involved and concerned, it’s clearly a very serious issue, so it should carry a penalty.”

Blackwood would also like to see “serious reforms in our court system”, including raising the age to 24 that one can give pre-recorded evidence (it’s currently 16), and “mandatory sexual offences training, not only the CPS, but also for defence barristers and judges in all cases involving vulnerable witnesses in sexual offence cases”. She also advocates a compulsory “ground rules hearing”, which means judges can lay down their ground rules for the court, such as disallowing barristers on both sides saying or doing certain things, like calling the victim a prostitute, asking them the same question one after the other, and even taking their wigs off.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Let's face it: supporting Spurs is basically a form of charity

Now, for my biggest donation yet . . .

I gazed in awe at the new stadium, the future home of Spurs, wondering where my treasures will go. It is going to be one of the architectural wonders of the modern world (football stadia division), yet at the same time it seems ancient, archaic, a Roman ruin, very much like an amphitheatre I once saw in Croatia. It’s at the stage in a new construction when you can see all the bones and none of the flesh, with huge tiers soaring up into the sky. You can’t tell if it’s going or coming, a past perfect ruin or a perfect future model.

It has been so annoying at White Hart Lane this past year or so, having to walk round walkways and under awnings and dodge fences and hoardings, losing all sense of direction. Millions of pounds were being poured into what appeared to be a hole in the ground. The new stadium will replace part of one end of the present one, which was built in 1898. It has been hard not to be unaware of what’s going on, continually asking ourselves, as we take our seats: did the earth move for you?

Now, at long last, you can see what will be there, when it emerges from the scaffolding in another year. Awesome, of course. And, har, har, it will hold more people than Arsenal’s new home by 1,000 (61,000, as opposed to the puny Emirates, with only 60,000). At each home game, I am thinking about the future, wondering how my treasures will fare: will they be happy there?

No, I don’t mean Harry Kane, Danny Rose and Kyle Walker – local as well as national treasures. Not many Prem teams these days can boast quite as many English persons in their ranks. I mean my treasures, stuff wot I have been collecting these past 50 years.

About ten years ago, I went to a shareholders’ meeting at White Hart Lane when the embryonic plans for the new stadium were being announced. I stood up when questions were called for and asked the chairman, Daniel Levy, about having a museum in the new stadium. I told him that Man United had made £1m the previous year from their museum. Surely Spurs should make room for one in the brave new mega-stadium – to show off our long and proud history, delight the fans and all those interested in football history and make a few bob.

He mumbled something – fluent enough, as he did go to Cambridge – but gave nothing away, like the PM caught at Prime Minister’s Questions with an unexpected question.

But now it is going to happen. The people who are designing the museum are coming from Manchester to look at my treasures. They asked for a list but I said, “No chance.” I must have 2,000 items of Spurs memorabilia. I could be dead by the time I finish listing them. They’ll have to see them, in the flesh, and then they’ll be free to take away whatever they might consider worth having in the new museum.

I’m awfully kind that way, partly because I have always looked on supporting Spurs as a form of charity. You don’t expect any reward. Nor could you expect a great deal of pleasure, these past few decades, and certainly not the other day at Liverpool when they were shite. But you do want to help them, poor things.

I have been downsizing since my wife died, and since we sold our Loweswater house, and I’m now clearing out some of my treasures. I’ve donated a very rare Wordsworth book to Dove Cottage, five letters from Beatrix Potter to the Armitt Library in Ambleside, and handwritten Beatles lyrics to the British Library. If Beckham and I don’t get a knighthood in the next honours list, I will be spitting.

My Spurs stuff includes programmes going back to 1910, plus recent stuff like the Opus book, that monster publication, about the size of a black cab. Limited editions cost £8,000 a copy in 2007. I got mine free, as I did the introduction and loaned them photographs. I will be glad to get rid of it. It’s blocking the light in my room.

Perhaps, depending on what they want, and they might take nothing, I will ask for a small pourboire in return. Two free tickets in the new stadium. For life. Or longer . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times