Rotherham Council slammed as ‘not fit for purpose’ in new child sex abuse report

Rotherham Town Hall, Moorgate

Rotherham Town Hall, Moorgate

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Rotherham Council has been slammed as ‘not fit for purpose’ and ‘failing in its legal obligation’ to protect young people, a new report into the town’s child sex abuse scandal revealed today.

The entire Rotherham Council Cabinet has resigned after publication of the Casey Report, an investigation into the way the council responded to the previous Alexis Jay Report.

The Jay Report found that 1,400 children were abused in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013.

Casey’s report said the council is in ‘overwhelming’ denial about the child sex abuse scandal and that senior figures paid off and bullied whistleblowers.

It said the council is failing, and needs intervention.

It also said no senior figure has faced disciplinary action since the Jay Report was published.

The report’s executive summary said: “Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council is not fit for purpose. It is failing in its legal obligation to secure continuous improvement in the way in which it exercises its

functions.

“In particular, it is failing in its duties to protect vulnerable children and young people from harm.

“This inspection revealed past and present failures to accept, understand and combat the issue of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), resulting in a lack of support for victims and insufficient action against known perpetrators.

“The Council’s culture is unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced ‘political correctness’ have cemented its failures.

“The Council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses, without a sustained intervention.”

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Local Government appointed Louise Casey to carry out an inspection of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council under the Local Government Act 1999.

The inspection team reviewed approximately 7000 documents, looked in detail at case files and met with over 200 people, including current and former staff, council Members, partners, victims and parents.

The report found:

*DENIAL

The report said Rotherham Council remains in denial about the scale of child sex abuse in the town, and in denial about the findings of the Jay Report.

It said the authority is ‘failing’ young people and ‘needs a fresh start’.

It added: “When inspectors commenced work in Rotherham we were struck by the overwhelming denial of what Professor Jay set out in her report. The attitude was so prevalent that we had to go back through many of the aspects of her work in order to satisfy ourselves that the Council had no grounds upon which further action could be delayed.

“We soon discovered, however, that RMBC has a history of denial.

“The clearest manifestation of denial was that Member after Member and officer after officer disputed the methodology of Professor Jay’s report.

“The numbers of victims were challenged, the cases she referred to were questioned and the interviews she referred to were questioned and the interviews she had undertaken were queried.

“When asked, 70% of the current Rotherham Councillors we spoke to (including those in the Cabinet) disputed Professor Jay’s findings.”

It went on to add: “Rotherham does not learn, even in the most tragic circumstances, and it has not improved.”

*FAILURES

“Inspectors have concluded that Council is failing and does not have the capacity to address past weaknesses.”

The report also said that Rotherham Council’s claims of improvements on child abuse by former chief Martin Kimber were ‘false optimism’.

It added: “Inspectors found very little evidence that service failings were identified and addressed. The signs that Children’s Social Care services were failing had been there for a very long time but the senior leadership team did not act and Members did not look hard enough. We saw some evidence that some officers sought to keep Members at arms-lenght, and direct them away from concerns.”

It went on to add that the council failed children, and is still failing them and has ‘taken more care of its reputation than it has its of its most needy’

*COVER-UP

“Inspectors have concluded that RMBC goes to some lengths to cover up information and silence whistle-blowers. It has created an unhealthy climate where people fear to speak out because they have seen the consequences of doing so to others.

“A significant number of people we interviewed were clearly afraid of what might happen to them if they spoke out.

“Inspectors considered detailed evidence in three specific cases where people who blew the whistle felt they were marginalised, bullied, harrassed and victimised as a result.

“In two cases, whistle blowers claimed they were deliberately restructured out. In a third case, following a similar pattern of marginalisation, the person left.”

Whistleblowers were silenced with pay-offs or ‘bullied out of the organisation’ if they refused to stay silent, the report added.

*DISCIPLINARY ACTION

“No chief officer has faced a disciplinary investigation in relation to the Jay Report.

“The council accepted resignations from the former CE and the former director of children’s services Joyce Thacker. Both received payments described by the council as ‘only that to which the officers were contractually entitled.’

“We were advised that a third chief officer has also left on similar terms. Such arrangements may lawfully be made... while this has given the council the chance of a welcome fresh start, it has also meant that noone has been heald to account for the serious failures Professor Jay identified.”

*POLICE

South Yorkshire Police was also heavily criticised for its role in the scandal.

A quote in the report, from an officer to a child abuse victim, said: “Don’t worry, you aren’t the first girl to be raped by XX and won’t be the last.”

It added that there ‘seemed to be lawlessness’ in Rotherham.

Police were said to be aware that a victim was ‘raped with a broken bottle’ and some girls were ‘ordered to kiss perpetrators’ feet at gun point’ but never took any action.

The National Crime Agency has now said it will examine a number of potentially criminal matters identified in the report.

*TAKING AIM AT PRESS

Councillors also took aim at The Times’ investigate journalist Andrew Norfolk, who is credited with breaking the story on the scandal.

A councillor told the report’s author: “ “The Times reporter Andrew Norfolk ‘had a thing about Pakistani men’ and ‘Norfolk’s got it in for us’

WHAT HAS HAPPENED SINCE PUBLICATION:

*The entire Cabinet at Rotherham Council has stepped down ENTIRE Rotherham Council cabinet resigns over new report

*Leader Paul Lakin has resigned Leader resigns over Rotherham report

*The Government has announced it will send five commissioners to run the Cabinet ALL OUT ELECTION announced for every member of Rotherham Council

*A new set of elections will be held in 2016 and every councillor will have to stand again ALL OUT ELECTION announced for every member of Rotherham Council

*The National Crime Agency has announced it will investigate ‘potentially criminal matters’ arising from the report: National Crime Agency to investigate potentially criminal matters

COUNCIL RESPONSE:

A spokesman for Rotherham Council said: “The Council needs time to understand and respond to the detailed report, and also to understand the implications of the intervention package proposed by the Secretary of State, the resignation of the Leader and the intention of the Cabinet to resign.

“We recognise the need for a fresh start that is so clearly identified in the report, but also appreciate that we need to continue to deliver services to the people of Rotherham, and ensure business continuity.

“We should not forget that the publication of this report will re-open old wounds for the victims and survivors of CSE. We will continue to put in place the help and support they need at this difficult time, including our dedicated helpline.”

ERIC PICKLES’ STATEMENT:

“In line with procedures laid down in the Local Government Act 1999, I am today (writing to the council to ask them if they wish to make representations on Louise Casey’s report and on the intervention package I am proposing.

“My proposals are designed to give the council the new start it needs and to put an immediate end to the council’s on-going service and governance failure.

“To give that new start, I am seeking to make an order under the Local Government Act 2000 to move Rotherham council to holding all-out elections in 2016 and every fourth year thereafter.

“The 2016 elections will be an opportunity for the people of Rotherham to renew the membership of their council, and to elect those they have confidence in.

“In the immediate term I am minded to appoint commissioners who will provide new leadership, taking over the roles of the current wholly dysfunctional cabinet.

“The crimes committed against children is so appalling, the council’s remedy is so utterly inadequate, that the government cannot in good conscious turn a blind eye.

“These are exceptional circumstances that justify Whitehall’s intervention so we can make the council address its failings and prevent this ever happening again. I believe the public both in Rotherham and across the country would expect nothing less.

“The intervention package I am proposing is broad and wide ranging.

“It would only be justified in the most exceptional case.

“Rotherham is I believe such a case, a truly rare case where the children of Rotherham have so badly been let down by those elected to serve them.

“Councils across England on the whole have a good record of service and are looking after their local communities.

“They are the heart of localism. This is something to protect and cherish.

“The action I am proposing today is to restore good local governance to Rotherham, where all can have confidence again in their council and they can take great pride in their borough.”

MORE ON THIS STORY:

ENTIRE Rotherham Council cabinet resigns over new report

ALL OUT ELECTION announced for every member of Rotherham Council

National Crime Agency to investigate potentially criminal matters

Overwhelming resolute denial at Rotherham Council

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