Councillors suspended over child sex abuse scandal in Rotherham

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The Labour Party has suspended four Rotherham councillors and former councillors in the wake of the scathing report into child sexual abuse in the town.

Councillors Gwendoline Russell and Shaukat Ali, as well as the council’s former leader Roger Stone and ex-deputy leader Jahangir Akhtar have been suspended pending an investigation.

Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee has now taken control of a new ‘rigorous’ procedure for selection of candidates to the local council in Rotherham, where a report published last week revealed as many as 1,400 children were groomed for abuse by largely Pakistanai men over a 16 year period.

And the NEC’s approval will be required for any application to rejoin the party by Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, who quit Labour following the publication of the report, and former councillor Maurice Kirk.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “Following the report into the Rotherham child abuse scandal by Professor Alexis Jay, the Labour Party has today suspended four party members pending investigation.

“As Ed Miliband made clear last week, large numbers of young people in Rotherham were systematically abused and then let down by those who should have protected them.

“It cannot be allowed to stand.”

Labour said it had instructed the party group on Rotherham Borough Council to set up a scrutiny committee on child protection that includes independent advisers to help rebuild public confidence in the council.

It added: “Further action against others in positions of responsibility at the time may follow. Those responsible must be, and will be, held to account.”

The four suspended by Labour held positions of responsibility in Rotherham during the years when children were abused.

Mr Stone, who was leader of the Labour-dominated council for 10 years, resigned and apologised last week following the publication of the report.

He was the elected official responsible for holding the police to account for their actions in South Yorkshire from 2012 and between 2006 and 2010 he was the council cabinet member with responsibility for children’s services.

Mr Akhtar resigned as the council’s deputy leader and vice-chair of the police and crime panel last year after reports - which he denied - alleging he knew about a relationship between a relative and an under-age girl in care.

He resumed his post after being cleared by the police of any blame but lost his seat in the May election to Ukip.

Ms Russell is chairman of Rotherham Council’s looked-after children scrutiny panel, while Mr Ali is a former mayor of the town.

South Yorkshire Police announced that Chief Constable David Crompton has commissioned an independent investigation into the force’s handling of child sexual exploitation.

Mr Crompton said: “A fully independent and impartial investigation is required to ensure that people have confidence that organisations or any individuals will be investigated fairly, rigorously and with complete impartiality.

“The investigation will properly and independently examine the role of both the police and council during the period identified and address any wrongdoings or failings, which will allow the appropriate action to be taken.

“We must give victims the confidence to come forward in the knowledge that all agencies will listen, will act, provide appropriate support, and relentlessly pursue those who offend against our young people.”

The Chief Constable has begun discussions to identify an appropriate force to carry out the inquiry.

Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee said: “We treat child sexual exploitation with the utmost sensitivity and I urge anyone who has concerns about a child who could be at risk to come forward. Our officers will relentlessly pursue all evidence and do everything they can to achieve justice for victims and bring those responsible to justice.

“We cannot do this alone - we need the continued support of our communities, and I urge anyone who is aware of a young person being sexually exploited to contact police so that we can protect those at risk.

“And to any victims who have not yet come forward, I encourage them to come forward in the confidence that they will be listened to, they will be taken seriously, and that support and care is available.”