New child sex victims come forward
Twelve new victims of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham have come forward since the publication last week of a devastating report revealing the abuse of at least 1,400 young people in the town, South Yorkshire Chief Constable David Crompton has revealed.
Mr Crompton told the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee that he now has 62 officers dedicated to dealing with child sex abuse, compared to just three in 2010 and eight in 2012.
And he said that 104 convictions had been secured since the start of 2013, while 40 more suspects were on bail. South Yorkshire Police are conducting nine "multiple victim, multiple offender" investigations, including two in Rotherham, he said.
Mr Crompton's comments came after he announced an independent inquiry by an external police force into the South Yorkshire Police handling of sex abuse complaints over many years. Last week's report by Professor Alexis Jay found that the authorities failed to respond adequately to complaints of abuse stretching over 16 years.
Home Secretary Theresa May was meeting Prof Jay after promising MPs that she would take action to bring perpetrators to justice and prevent the Rotherham scandal being repeated.
Mrs May revealed that Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is "minded" to commission an independent investigation into Rotherham Borough Council following concerns of "inadequate scrutiny by councillors, institutionalised political correctness and covering-up of information and the failure to take action against gross misconduct".
Labour - which today suspended four members in positions of responsibility in Rotherham at the time of the abuse - pressed the Home Secretary to introduce a mandatory requirement to report concerns about child sex abuse, so that authorities do not feel they can "turn a blind eye" to victims' complaints.
The Chief Constable is to return to the Home Affairs Committee next Tuesday for a further grilling by MPs, along with Prof Jay herself, Rotherham Borough Council's director of children and young people's services Joyce Thacker and the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, who is resisting top-level calls for his resignation, including from Prime Minister David Cameron, Mrs May and Labour leader Ed Miliband.
Mr Crompton, who took up his post in 2012, said that the Jay Report recognised improvements in the force's handling of child sexual abuse complaints over the past four years.
"The report makes clear that for the last four years there have been improvements and where we are now is adequately resourced with better procedures," he told the committee. "We are acting, but nobody is complacent. This is a huge wake-up call.
"We have got a very comprehensive plan moving forward, and even though we have put additional resources into this, we may be putting in more resources, given that we have got even more allegations coming forward."
Promising that police will "go wherever the evidence takes us", he added: "We have had 12 new cases brought forward since Alexis Jay's report was published."
The Jay Report last week detailed harrowing examples of girls from Rotherham - many of them in local authority care - who were raped, trafficked and threatened with extreme violence, and found that senior council officers, elected members and police officers were aware of the problem for years but failed to tackle it.
A Home Office researcher who looked into the allegations more than a decade ago said she was put under pressure to change her findings after highlighting the fact that most of the perpetrators she identified were of Pakistani background.
The woman, who was not named, told the BBC's Panorama programme: "I was subjected to most intense personal hostility. There were threats made from a range of sources. I've never seen back-covering like it and I still feel extremely angry about that."
Responding to an urgent question from shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, Mrs May told the Commons that Prof Jay's report was "a terrible account of the appalling failures by Rotherham Council and by police and other agencies to protect vulnerable children. It was a complete dereliction of duty."
Mrs May said that the Government was determined to "learn the lessons" from Rotherham and said it was "no excuse" for those in positions of authority to decline to act because of the fear of undermining race relations.
"I am clear that cultural concerns, both the fear of being seen to be racist and the frankly disdainful attitude to some of our most vulnerable children must never stand in the way of child protection.
"We know that child sexual exploitation happens in all communities. There is no excuse for it in any of them. And there is never any excuse for failing to bring the perpetrators to justice.
"The abuse of children is a particularly vile crime and one this Government is determined to stop."
Paul Lakin, deputy leader of Rotherham Council, welcomed Mr Pickles' decision to carry out an inspection of Rotherham Borough Council's corporate governance arrangements.
"We had already intended to ask for a similar inspection by an independent body to assist us with securing further improvements to our services," said Mr Lakin. "We will co-operate fully with Government and will do everything we can to help to improve services, restore public confidence and contribute to any national debate on this vile crime.
"We accept that the failures to protect young people in the past are unacceptable and inexcusable, and we apologise unreservedly."
Ms Cooper, who has already committed Labour to introducing a mandatory reporting law if it wins power, warned that Rotherham was not a one-off, and urged ministers to press ahead promptly with the overarching inquiry into child sex abuse scandals, which was announced in July but still has no chair or terms of reference.
"This is about every town and city in the country," Ms Cooper told MPs. "Time and again, it is the same problems - children not being listened to, victims treated as thought they were responsible for the crimes against them and institutions that just looked the other way.
"Neither is this historic. This is happening today. That's why we need the overarching inquiry urgently in place."
Rotherham Borough Council was under Labour control throughout the period in question, and the party has now suspended the authority's former leader, Roger Stone, and ex-deputy leader, Jahangir Akhtar, as well as serving councillors Gwendoline Ann Russell, who chairs the town's looked-after children scrutiny panel, and Shaukat Ali, a former mayor. The suspensions will continue pending an investigation, said the party.
Mr Stone, who was leader of the Labour-dominated council for 10 years, resigned and apologised last week following the publication of the report, but declined to comment on today's developments. From 2006 to 2010 he was the council cabinet member with responsibility for children's services.
Mr Akhtar quit as the council's deputy leader and vice-chair of the police and crime panel last year after press reports - which he denied - alleging he knew about a relationship between a relative and an under-age girl in care. He resumed his post after being cleared by the police of any blame but lost his seat in the May election to Ukip.
He said: "It's an internal Labour Party matter. Obviously I will comply with the procedures and I have no comments to make at this moment in time."
Labour's ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) has also taken control of a "rigorous" new procedure for selection of candidates to local authority positions in Rotherham, and the party group on the council has been instructed to set up a scrutiny committee on child protection to rebuild public confidence.
The NEC's approval will be required for any application to rejoin the party by Mr Wright or former councillor Maurice Kirk.