NCA to lead Rotherham inquiry

Published: Monday 13th October 2014 by The News Editor

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The National Crime Agency (NCA) will lead an investigation into outstanding allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.

The NCA said it was taking on the inquiry following a request from South Yorkshire Police chief constable David Crompton in the wake of the scandal which followed the publication of the Jay Report, in August.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report outlined how at least 1,400 children had been sexually exploited in Rotherham between 1997 and 2003 and questioned why highly placed public figures had not tackled the problem.

The controversy that followed the report led to a series of high profile resignations culminating in the departures of Rotherham’s strategic director of children’s services, Joyce Thacker, and South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, who had been the councillor with responsibility for children’s services between 2005 and 2010.

After Mr Wright’s resignation last month, Mr Crompton said: “This represents an opportunity for the force, and the county, to move forward in light of Professor Jay’s report about child sexual exploitation.

”The force has referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and is in detailed discussion with the National Crime Agency to oversee an independent inquiry into allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham. Any organisations or individuals found to be at fault will be held to account.”

Today, in a brief statement, the NCA said: “David Crompton, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, has requested that the NCA hosts an independent investigation into outstanding allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham, raised in the independent inquiry by Alexis Jay.

“Trevor Pearce, NCA Director of Investigations, has agreed to lead this investigation, and is now working to draw up detailed terms of reference.”

A South Yorkshire Police spokeswoman said today: “Chief Constable David Crompton is involved in detailed discussion with NCA Director of Investigations Trevor Pearce concerning the terms of reference and timescales for an investigation into the outstanding allegations of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.”

Prof Jay told MPs of concerns about missing records of a series of meetings that took place between professionals in the area between 1999 and 2003.

“This was a period of time when there were a group of what were considered to be dedicated professionals meeting and trying hard to address the issues … both at an individual level, monitoring children who were victims but also to share intelligence about perpetrators,” she told the Commons communities and local government select committee.

“That included the police, the health service and, of course, children’s social care.

“These meetings were carefully minuted, as I understand, and those minutes were never revealed. I asked for them on several occasions and they couldn’t be found.

“Some of those who were involved in the meetings originally were very distressed by the fact that they couldn’t be found. There was no explanation.”

She told them: “That’s important not just from the point of view of the inquiry but also because they could include information about how decisions were made about these children’s lives and as adults they have a right to know what happened to them when they were being supported by the local authority.”

Much stricter monitoring was required of the work of safeguarding boards to ensure exploitation was stamped out, she said, backing warnings that it was likely to be prevalent across the country.

“I certainly don’t think Rotherham is unique,” she told the MPs.

Boards had “mountains” of procedures, policies or plans, she said.

“The weakness was that nobody checked that they were being implemented.”

She also criticised Ofsted who, despite looking at the issue, “didn’t seem to demand any direct and sustained improvement to take place”.

Asked if the watchdog had also failed children in Rotherham, she told the MPs: “To some extent yes.”

“There was no clear message that ‘we’re not going to tolerate this’.”

Other actions that were required included raising awareness of signs of abuse – including in schools – to help early identification, better-trained staff being deployed onto the streets to talk to young people, s afer accommodation for care leavers and stricter tax licensing.

Asked if she backed m andatory reporting, she said it was a complex question but highlighted a study that found there were four times as many confirmed cases in jurisdictions that used it.

The leader of Rotherham Council, Paul Lakin, told the communities committee that when he was appointed to oversee the authority’s services for children in 2010, the department was “chaotic”.

The Labour councillor – who took over as council leader last month after the resignation of Roger Stone in the wake of the Jay Report – said he had backed an independent inquiry into child sex abuse complaints but had faced resistance from the then leader.

“I had a discussion with the leader,” said Mr Lakin. “The leader wasn’t keen initially. That discussion became a heated debate, refereed by the then deputy leader … I said, ‘If you don’t have an independent inquiry, I will be walking out of this room and speaking in favour of an independent review, and what you do with me is your choice’.”

Mr Lakin said he had witnessed scenes of “bullying” at the authority, with “over-zealous” questioning of council officials by councillors and officials answering back in inappropriate ways.

He suggested that Rotherham’s problems were caused in part by the near-total one-party dominance of the council by Labour.

“You are always going to have a particular problem where you have a single-party majority of the size Rotherham was,” he told the committee. “We had at one point over 60 out of the 66 councillors.”

The establishment of a sizeable opposition, in the shape of 10 Ukip councillors elected earlier this year, meant that “the way they challenge the council is totally different”, he said, adding: “It’s for the better.”

After taking up the leader’s position, Mr Lakin intr oduced a package of changes including a £120,000 fund to support victims of child sexual abuse and the introduction of a cabinet member to oversee all services for children and young people in Rotherham.

He told the committee that these services had been “messed around with” in previous years, with responsibility divided between a changing cast of cabinet members.

Reviewing case files dating back many years would be a “massive task” which would have financial implications for the council, unless the Government was willing to contribute, said Mr Lakin.

But he added: “These young people have been let down and we owe it to them to go through their case files and look at where people may be culpable and bring these people to task.”

Mr Lakin said Rotherham was in the process of recruiting an interim chief executive and interim director of children’s services.

He said that following these appointments, “what the authority needs is no more changes in leadership, we need a period of calm and stability to allow things to settle, so we can sort out some of the problems that lie before us”.

Published: Monday 13th October 2014 by The News Editor

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