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PCC removal laws sought by MPs

Emergency laws must be brought in to allow the embattled South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) to be ousted following the Rotherham child abuse scandal, a powerful group of MPs is demanding.

In a bruising session with the Home Affairs committee, Shaun Wright 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.

Committee chairman Keith Vaz revealed he is writing to Home Secretary Theresa May to call for emergency legislation to allow PCCs to removed from their post.

MPs took evidence from a number of key figures working in Rotherham at the height of the abuse, which a recent report found had affected 1,400 children between 1997 and 2013.

Joyce Thacker, who has been head of children's services since 2008 and was deputy head for two years before that, was also told to quit by the committee.

Ex-South Yorkshire Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes told the MPs he was "distressed" that he had not been made aware of the problem and that he felt "sick" when he read reports into it over recent days.

But he was rebuked by Mr Vaz, who told him his denials were "impossible to believe" in the face of "evidence of the most compelling nature" to the contrary.

A report by Professor Alexis Jay 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.

Mr Wright told MPs the problem of CSE was not flagged up to him as a significant issue during his period as the councillor with responsibility for children's services in the town from 2005 to 2010.

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".

He told the MPs: " I basically think that resigning would have been, perhaps, the easy option given the last fortnight with the various criticisms that have been made and the effect that that's had on both myself and my family."

Pressed again by Mr Vaz, Mr Wright said: " I don't recall one single external report from Ofsted or any other organisation that flagged CSE as being a significant issue."

He said: "Over that period of time not one member of the public came to a surgery of mine, not one local councillor asked me a question, either in my political group or in full council, not one local MP in Rotherham raised the issue or a case of CSE for those five years."

Mr Vaz told him: "We don't accept any of that."

Mr Wright said he had no recollection of having been given first-hand evidence by young victims of the abuse that was going on.

One grooming victim told The Times that she was among several survivors who held a face-to-face meeting with him in 2005 at the offices of an outreach group, Risky Business.

"I do not recall that meeting taking place," he told the committee.

He claimed to have received "in excess of 100 messages of support" from individuals, including "many councillors, MPs and others".

Mr Wright told the committee that being forced to quit the Labour Party had been "very painful" but said he had a " duty to serve out my term of office".

He dismissed claims that he was remaining in post only for the money as "absolute nonsense".

Mr Vaz said he is writing to Mrs May to call for emergency legislation to allow PCCs to be ousted and urged Mr Wright to quit.

He said: "I will be writing to the Home Secretary to ask her to look at the legislation on PCCs because there isn't any at the moment to see if there can be a possibility of emergency legislation or an amendment to deal with a situation such as yours because it is unsatisfactory in our view that someone should be able to say to the public who elected them 'I'm just carrying on' no matter the stacks of evidence that we have heard that calls into question your evidence to us today, which we find entirely unconvincing.

"That's why, and I can't remember this ever happening from a select committee in terms of a public official who has been elected, that we call for your immediate resignation."

Mr Vaz took the unusual move of announcing that all the evidence during today's session would be given under oath and warned that false information would be "subject to the penalties for perjury".

Mr Hughes told the committee that he had not seen three of four reports being examined by their inquiry until recent days and he "f elt sick" when he read them.

"I am not immune to the ideas that this is a hideous crime and I am deeply embarrassed.

"But I can say with honesty that at the time that I was both deputy and chief constable, I had no idea of the scale and scope of this type of organised crime."

He added: "I take no pleasure from this. I have had a 32-year police career and, yet on this issue I have signally failed the victims of these criminals and it hurts."

Mr Vaz gave a damning instant assessment of the evidence Mr Hughes had given to the committee, telling the former police chief it was "totally unconvincing".

Current chief constable David Crompton said 25 new victims had now come forward - more than double the 12 he reported to the committee last week.

He told MPs he would "get to the bottom" of claims that a Home Office researcher had been subject to threats when she wrote up a report into CSE in the town.

Mr Crompton also said he was in talks with the National Crime Agency over bringing it in to stage an inquiry into what has happened and a former chief constable is also being considered to run the investigation.

He told MPs: "I think probably the best way to go about this is for this to be handled outside South Yorkshire police so that the public have got confidence that these matters are dealt with appropriately."

Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber explained his decision, announced yesterday, to stand down in December from the £160,000-a-year post which he has held since 2009.

"I was horrified at the scale of sexual abuse uncovered across Rotherham and I feel terribly sorry for all of the victims and all of their families," Mr Kimber told the committee.

"I asked myself whether I felt I could do any more. I accept my share of responsibility."

Mr Kimber said he had not yet decided whether he would take the pension to which he is entitled from Rotherham Council.

Mr Vaz said the committee had heard "compelling" evidence in private from the head of the Risky Business youth project in Rotherham, Jayne Senior, which made it "very very clear that Ms Thacker had in her possession detailed reports about child sex grooming in Rotherham and "nothing was done about it".

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

Asked what she and Mr Wright had done about the problem, Ms Thacker replied: "We knew about child sexual exploitation and abuse but we didn't know the scale of it ... I have worked tirelessly to improve things in Rotherham and make sure that people understood it was everyone's business to stop this."

But Mr Vaz said the whole committee believed Ms 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."

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