Home Secretary Theresa May has accused Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police of a ‘complete dereliction of duty’ over their handling of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham.
Her scathing remark was made in the Commons today when responding to an urgent parliamentary question from shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper.
Mrs May described Professor Alexis Jay’s report last week as ‘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,” she added.
Mrs May said 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.
Prof Jay’s report found that authorities men of largely Pakistani heritage were known to be responsible for the offending but authorities failed to act because of fears over race relations.
Mrs May added: “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.”
Shadow Home Secretary Ms Cooper 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 chairman 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.”
It has been announced today that South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright will give evidence on the Rotherham child sex scandal to a parliamentary committee.
Mr Wright, who was in charge of children’s services in the town for five years before taking up his current post, is resisting fierce pressure to step down his £85,000-a-year post, including calls from Mrs May, Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband.
House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Keith Vaz said today: “I have spoken to Commissioner Wright this morning and informed him that the committee will want him to give evidence as part of our inquiry, and he has agreed to do so.”
Rotherham Council’s chief executive Martin Kimber and director of children and young people’s services Joyce Thacker are to be grilled about the findings of the Jay Report by MPs on the House of Commons Communities and Local Government Committee on September 10 - a day after the likely date of Mr Wright’s appearance before the Home Affairs Committee.
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.
Paul Lakin, deputy leader of Rotherham Council, said: “We welcome the announcement by the Government of the 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. 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.”