What was Akhtar found innocent of?
Many in the press bemoan the Leveson Inquiry as the death knell for independent investigative reporting. Yet It appears our local press are capable of killing it off without outside help; at least if their coverage of Akhtar’s return is anything to go by.
The Star and the Advertiser deserve a special mention for not even bothering to reacquaint themselves with Andrew Norfolk’s Times article before writing:
The Star: “South Yorkshire Police investigated the allegation regarding Coun Akhtar and found ‘no evidence’ to support the accusation and said he would not face any action”.
The Tiser: “Labour Group press officer Cllr Shabana Ahmed said: “We are pleased that Cllr Jahangir Akhtar has been cleared of all the allegations made against him in the recent Times article.”
Both newspapers based their articles on a Labour Group press release, ironically from Akhtar’s alleged lover, a release topped & tailed by the minimum amount of context& in one case a quote from the Council CEO.
So for all the journalists and editors here is a guide:
1.The Times had clearly stated that Akhtar wasn’t accused of undertaking anything illegal
2. The actual allegation was that Akhtar was party to a negotiation that led to a Child Sex abuser being allowed to go free in exchange for returning his victim;
3.That the abuser was a member of his wider family, with a suggestion that his primary concern was protect his relative rather than get the young girl returned and ensure justice was applied.
Based in this article others have alleged:
4.That while not a Councillor at the time since becoming one & contrary to his experience he has acted through spoken and written word to both play down the importance of grooming and deny that any Councillor had knowledge that Police & Social Services were allowing perpetrators to go unprosecuted.
5.That as a Councillor he had a duty to give evidence & recount his experience truthfully when the Council undertook Child Sex Abuse inquiries & that by not doing so he effectively undermined any Council efforts at investigation
6.That the real issue is, did this later behaviour leans to towards misconduct in, and abuse of public office. Something that was not part of the Police investigation.
7.There are also issues for the Labour Party in terms of his possibly having brought the Party into disrepute & failure to declare issues in his past that might have that effect.
The Star’s use of the phrase “he would not face any action” suggests the Police probably did only look at the legality of his actions in that particular incident, not the wider Times allegations nor how he used that experience in his later work as a Councillor.
In other words SYP only investigated him against allegations of criminality that were never actually made by anyone named publicly and definitely not the Times.
As an aside, it also begs the questions why the investigation, who referred it to the Police and why? Here things start to smell a little bit of Politics.
More importantly, looking at the distributed Labour Group press release one has to point out that;
SYP saying they did not find Akhtar guilty of a criminal offence is not necessarily the same as saying that he was not party to the negotiations nor necessarily refuting an allegation made by the child in the Times article when she stated that Akhtar had been present at her hand over.
This is where the newspapers really needed to be more clear whether or not they spoke directly with SYP to identify what was investigated and against what parameters.
It is also where the Labour Party must consider whether or not a deliberately misleading press release was distributed, one which went well beyond the actual Police deliberation by declaring him clear of all the Times allegations, and whether or not Akhtars relationship with the Groups Press Officer influenced the formulation of said Press release.
An additional issue at this moment surrounds the ongoing inquiry into Child Sex Groooming and abuse being undertaken by an external investigator. An inquiry that if the brief is to be believed should consider the case in which Akhtar is alleged to have negotiated for his relative and/or where he may have been aware that that a deal was done to secure his relatives freedom from prosecution.
The issues in Akhtars case go to the heart of the concerns about the behaviour of Rotherham Council & the Police. That is of their failure to protect children, prosecute perpetrators and the complicity of politicians in covering up such behaviours.
Given that Akhtar stood down over allegations that were never be made, how can he now be allowed to roam the corridors of power while an inquiry covers allegations that have been made publicly? In an environment where he will have much easier personal access to the person undertaking that inquiry.