Abuse scandal prompts early probe
The Rotherham child abuse scandal deepened tonight as embattled police commissioner Shaun Wright's deputy quit and the Government ordered an early inspection of child protection services in the town.
Deputy South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Tracey Cheetham announced she was resigning after a devastating report exposed widespread child sexual exploitation in the town over 16 years - and called on Mr Wright to follow suit.
She said she felt "unable to continue" in the role and added: "It is vital for people to have confidence in the office of police and crime commissioner and, with this in mind, I believe it would have been the right thing for Shaun Wright to resign."
But Mr Wright continued to ignore calls for him to quit, as did Joyce Thacker, the under-pressure head of Rotherham's children's services since 2008, who issued a staunch defence of her record.
Their defiance comes as Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said she was "appalled" at the abuse exposed, and announced that Ofsted would carry out an early inspection of child protection services in Rotherham.
Announcing her departure, Ms Cheetham said in a statement: "After careful consideration of my position as Labour Deputy PCC, following Shaun Wright's announcement that he has resigned from the Labour Party, it has become clear to me that I am unable to continue in the role and have therefore tendered my resignation."
Calling for Mr Wright to quit too, she said: "This has become even more apparent given the overwhelming opinion of the public - as they are the people to whom the commissioner is ultimately accountable."
But despite mounting pressure for more heads to roll over the scandal, Mrs Thacker refused to step down.
She said she is "appalled at the horrific experiences which many of our young people went through" and added her "sincere apologies to those who were let down by our services in the past".
But striking a defiant tone, she said: "These are very difficult times and we need all of the experience and ability we can bring to bear. The best way I can exercise my responsibility is to drive forward the report's recommendations, and make sure young people in Rotherham are even safer."
The Department for Education disclosed tonight that Children's Minister Edward Timpson has written to Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council following Professor Alexis Jay's report to seek "urgent reassurance".
After a day when the fallout from Prof Jay's inquiry continued with a raft of fresh developments, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) announced it was contacting South Yorkshire Police.
And political leaders from all parties have called for Mr Wright to quit, with David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg joining the chorus of calls for him to go.
The Prime Minister described a report into 16 years of widespread child abuse in the Yorkshire town as "deeply shocking".
He said: "I think the Home Secretary (Theresa May) was right yesterday to say, having looked at the report, the fact that the police commissioner was at the time head of children's services, that the right decision would be to resign and take full responsibility for what happened."
Mr Wright is also facing demands for an investigation into whether he committed misconduct in public office during his time as head of children's services at the borough council between 2005 and 2010.
He has said he was "simply not aware of the scale of the problem" documented by Prof Jay, who said at least 1,400 children were abused between 1997 and 2013 amid widespread failings by authorities.
But P rof Jay said yesterday that, given the information available to agencies by April 2005, "nobody could say 'I didn't know'."
In other developments, a separate inquiry found that South Yorkshire Police's public protection unit (PPU), which handles sex crimes such as rape, honour-based violence and domestic abuse, had an "unacceptable" culture that saw officers spending a lot of time trying to disprove allegations.
And ex-director of children's services Sonia Sharp said senior authority figures knew "many" children were at risk of sexual exploitation almost a decade ago.
But she said officials were reluctant to act because of a predominant view that the abuse victims were "promiscuous teenagers in consensual relationships".
As the pressure mounted on Mr Wright to go, his spokeswoman said he was at work today as usual - but he was not at his offices in Barnsley.
Labour MP for Rotherham Sarah Champion told Channel 4 News: "All the way through this process, the report makes very clear people who should have been responsible for the care of these children turned away, ignored reports, ignored front line staff saying there was a problem.
"The fact that is going on now and people aren't stepping forward and taking their responsibility I find totally shocking.
"What I want is everybody in that report, everybody who has let down these children, need to be either disciplined or (be subject to) criminal investigation.
"They were employed to look after children and they have very, very clearly failed.
"By not standing up, they are again insulting these victims. The victims were not listened to when they first came forward. They haven't had justice now. They haven't had prosecutions, these abusers are still on the streets. "