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Child boss 'could have done more'

The beleaguered director of children's services in Rotherham, where 1,400 children were subjected to sexual exploitation over more than decade, has told MPs "all of us could have done more".

Joyce Thacker was giving evidence to the Commons Communities Committee the day after a different influential group of MPs urged her to step down.

Asked by Labour MP Chris Williamson whether she could have done more to stop the widespread exploitation of children in the town, Mrs Thacker said: "With the benefit of hindsight, absolutely, all of us could have done more. Absolutely, without question.

"What I do know is that we did the best we could with the resources available at the time."

And Mrs Thacker, who has been head of children's services since 2008 and was deputy head for two years before that, said: "I do accept responsibility for my part on this."

Yesterday, Keith Vaz, chairman of the Home Affairs Committee told Mrs Thacker: " You should resign as a matter of conscience and in order to try and cleanse the council of the leadership that it has had so far."

Today, as she did yesterday, Mrs Thacker, appeared before MPs alongside the council's chief executive Martin Kimber.

Mr Kimber announced last week he was stepping down in the wake of the report of Professor Alexis Jay which outlined how hundreds of children had been subjected to trafficking, rape and other sexual exploitation between 1997 and 2013 and how their plight had been ignored by range of agencies, including police, councillors and council officials.

Today, at a council meeting in Rotherham, deputy leader Paul Lakin announced that the council's ruling Labour cabinet would be dissolved and a new cabinet formed.

Council leader Roger Stone resigned in the immediate aftermath of the Jay Report.

Yesterday, Mr Kimber and Mrs Thacker appeared before the Home Affairs Committee to discuss the Rotherham scandal with the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Shaun Wright.

Mrs Thacker had told that committee she had given a "lot of thought" to resigning but insisted she had "worked hard" to improve services in Rotherham.

But Mr Vaz said the whole committee believed Mrs Thacker should quit.

He said: "We don't accept your evidence that you raised this and nobody was listening to you."

"You should resign as a matter of conscience and in order to try and cleanse the council of the leadership that it has had so far," he added.

"That is the unanimous and collective view of this select committee."

Mr Vaz revealed yesterday he is writing to Home Secretary Theresa May to call for emergency legislation to allow PCCs to removed from their post after hearing evidence from Mr Wright.

The PCC was told his claims to have been unaware of the problem of child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the South Yorkshire town were "entirely unconvincing".

MPs accused him of clinging on to his job for a "love of the salary" and called for his immediate resignation from the elected role.

The PCC has faced almost universal calls to resign, including from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, Labour leader Ed Miliband, his own deputy - Tracey Cheetham, Sheffield City Council, the Police and Crime Panel that oversees him and the "entire political establishment".

Pressed by Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk, Mrs Thacker said she had personally met around half-a-dozen of the estimate 1,400 victims of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham.

Mr Kimber said he had not met any victims or survivors of CSE.

Mr Danczuk also asked Mrs Thacker repeatedly whether a lack of prosecutions in Rotherham meant that "rapists carried on raping children".

The director eventually replied: "Rapists seem to have done that, yes."

Mrs Thacker also told the MPs that a 2008 report on CSE in Rotherham was given to Mr Wright when he was the cabinet member responsible for children's services.

But she said he did not pass it on to the rest of the council's ruling cabinet.

Asked if she felt "let down" by Mr Wright, Mrs Thacker said: "I think, with hindsight, yes I am.

"If the report had been given to cabinet it still would not have stopped child sexual exploitation, I've made that quite clear.

"But the ownership may have been there for the issue much better across the council than it was.

"It was a difficult period of time."

The mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, said he had written to Home Secretary Theresa May to ask for an independent inquiry in response to the Jay Report " to establish how the appalling failings of public agencies relating to vulnerable children in Rotherham were allowed to develop in such a way".

Mr Anderson made the announcement as he confirmed he has now spoken to Liverpool City Council chief executive Ged Fitzgerald, about his role as Rotherham's chief executive of 2001 to 2003.

Mr Anderson said: " I have met with Ged Fitzgerald, chief executive of Liverpool City Council, and had a preliminary discussion on the findings of the Jay report in relation to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

"Mr Fitzgerald has given me an overview of his role and recollection in relation to the matters reported whilst he was chief executive of the borough from 2001-2003.

"Following that initial discussion, I have arranged to meet with the leaders of the other political groups on the city council to discuss the matter on Friday September 12.

"I will also facilitate a meeting between the leaders and Mr Fitzgerald to give them an opportunity to ask questions directly about his role at Rotherham. Mr Fitzgerald has already stated publicly, and has emphasised to me, his desire to co-operate fully with any scrutiny of issues that may relate to his involvement.

"I have also written today to the Home Secretary calling for the Government to instigate immediately an independent inquiry in response to the Jay report to establish how the appalling failings of public agencies relating to vulnerable children in Rotherham were allowed to develop in such a way.

"I will make a further statement within the next few days."

Mr Kimber and Mrs Thacker were challenged by the MPs on claims in the Jay Report that staff were scared of dealing with the issue because most perpetrators identified by victims were of Pakistani origin.

Mrs Thacker said she believed the situation would have been the same if the men had been white British.

She pointed to prosecutions of Pakistani men during her time at the head of the department and said the current racial profile of offenders was 60% white and 40% black and minority ethnic (BME).

Mrs Thacker said: "I think it was for me, as I understand it looking back, I think it was people saying we won't just talk about that, we'll pursue it."

She was also asked if her predecessor in her role, Sonia Sharp, left "an appalling mess".

Mrs Thacker conceded Ms Sharp "lef t some challenges in children services".

And asked about the figure of at least 1,400 CSE victims stated in the Jay Report, Mrs Thacker said she knew Professor Jay looked at 66 individual cases and said her department was currently dealing with 145 CSE files.

She and Mr Kimber both said they were not aware of any whistleblowing about this issue at Rotherham Borough Council, although the chief executive said there had been whistleblowing in respect of other, unrelated matters.

Mr Kimber told the MPs he cannot find some of the crucial reports referred to in the Jay Report.

Professor Jay said reports written in 2002, 2003 and 2006 should have made it plain to senior figures what was going on in the town.

Labour MP David Heyes asked Mr Kimber how he could have been unaware of what was happening when these reports existed.

The chief executive told the committee: "The Jay Report does say that, but, as I have indicated, the 2002 report referred to in the Jay Report - I still haven't seen a full copy of it even though I have made extensive enquiries.

"I've had a partial copy which actually was supplied to me by newspapers. But the Home Office, other sources that ought to have that report, no longer have it.

"The 2003 report, I have never seen at all. I have made extensive inquiries but Professor Jay has it.

"The 2006 report I saw for the first time on Sunday evening. So whilst there is this catalogue of reports, they are not within the council's archive because I have asked to see previous historic information."

Mr Heyes said: "Is there a suggestion there that documents drawing attention to these issues in the past have actively been destroyed?"

Mr Kimber replied: "I don't know they've actively been destroyed. All I can say is I cannot find them. They are not within the council's archive."

The Jay Report said the 2002 report, written by a Home Office researcher was deliberately surpressed.

It said reports written in 2003 and 2006 written by a police researcher were ignored.

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