New inquiries into the Rotherham child abuse scandal were criticised last night after they failed to recommend disciplinary action against any of the council’s former senior executives.
Sarah Champion, the South Yorkshire town’s MP, labelled the reports a “wasted opportunity”, while a young woman who as a child fell victim to multiple sex offences condemned the findings as a whitewash.
Six independent investigations were commissioned by the local authority, at a cost of £440,000, after the 2014 Jay report, which revealed that 1,400 girls from the town were targeted for abuse, including rape and sex trafficking, from 1997 to 2013.
The lead inquiry was asked to investigate the “performance and conduct” of senior employees in those years, to determine whether there were grounds for disciplinary proceedings against any present or former staff.
Its finding was that the council’s “shameful” response to child sexual exploitation was the product of “multiple and systemic failures” but was “not the responsibility or fault” of any one person.
Mark Greenburgh, from the law firm that conducted the inquiry, said that although some senior managers “let down the children, the council and themselves”, no one “deliberately turned a blind eye to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham”.
There was also, he said, no evidence of an orchestrated cover-up. It was “more cock-up than conspiracy”.
Ms Champion, a vocal campaigner for the victims of sexual exploitation, said that the reports failed to “draw a line under the catalogue of errors that led to our children being let down so badly by those supposed to protect them”.
She added: “Despite these huge failures, it appears that no individual at the council has been held to account. How is Rotherham meant to have confidence this will never happen again unless we know what went wrong?”
Ms Champion, who was until last month Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary, was forced to resign after she wrote in an article for The Sun that Britain “has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”.
Yesterday’s inquiry reports noted that frontline staff attempting to raise concerns about groups of men targeting white teenagers for abuse faced “cultural barriers” due to “over-sensitivity and caution” within the council about “acknowledging the race and ethnicity of the perpetrators”.
Mr Greenburgh said that his investigation was hampered by the “disappointing” refusal of some former senior officers and Labour councillors “to engage with the process”.
Among those who declined to be interviewed were Roger Stone, former council leader, and Shaun Wright, cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services from 2005 to 2010. He resigned as South Yorkshire’s crime commissioner after the Jay report was published.
Chris Read, who became council leader after the scandal triggered the resignation of Rotherham’s Labour cabinet in early 2015, said that the inquiry’s failure to recommend disciplinary action against anyone was not “easy to swallow”.
Mr Reed said that those who refused to cooperate with the investigation, “including former Labour members” should be made to realise that “our survivors deserved far better”.
Ged Fitzgerald, the council’s chief executive from 2000 to 2003, also turned down an interview. The report said that had he taken “a more rigorous approach” when he became aware of sex-grooming concerns in 2001, “the response by the council might have been very different”.
Overview, or the spin.
Investigation into the Performance, Practice and Conduct of Senior Employees of the Council over the period of the Jay Report (1997-2013) and further highlighted in the Corporate Governance Inspection report made by Louise Casey (February 2015) (Gowling Solicitors)
Independent Investigation – Review of Cases A to O referred to in the Jay Report (Independent Consultant)
Audit Investigation into the Alleged Removal of Files and Impairment of Computer Records – April 2002
Audit Investigation into Missing Minutes from Meetings of the Key Players’ Group – Late 1990s to 2003/04
Audit Investigation – Theft of 21 Laptops from Norfolk House, Rotherham: 26th October 2011 – Review of the Council’s Response
Report into Rotherham Taxi Licensing and Enforcement Service – 2010 to the Present (Weightmans LLP)
Webcast of meeting: https://rotherham.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/304994