Opposition leader Ed Miliband has admitted Rotherham abuse victims were ‘terribly let down’ by Labour representatives.
He spoke of his deep regret at the scandal as he addressed students and school pupils at the event at Sheffield Hallam University students union.
South Yorkshire Police and Labour-controlled Rotherham Council were strongly criticised by the Jay report in August, which revealed at least 1,400 children had been abused in the town over a 16-year-period.
A young woman who said she was Amy, from Rotherham, asked him: “How can my generation trust your party to ensure child safety at a national level when a Labour council in Rotherham couldn’t even cope and how can we prevent future atrocities occurring?”
Mr Miliband said: “It was terrible what happened in Rotherham. Lots and lots of young people were terribly let down, including by Labour representatives.
“I deeply regret that that happened and we’ve got to learn the lessons of it.
“We’ve got to learn the lessons of it as a party - and we’ve taken some action in terms of some of the people who were there at the time.
“We’ve got to learn the lessons also as a country because these aren’t just failings that were in Rotherham, they were failings right across many, many walks of life.”
Mr Miliband said he hoped the planned national inquiry into child abuse would give victims a chance to tell their stories.
He said: “I couldn’t be clearer about the sense of regret I feel about what happened in Rotherham and that a Labour council didn’t do the right things and didn’t take the action that was necessary.”
The scandal which began with Professor Alexis Jay’s report in August led to a range of resignations.
The Labour leader of Rotherham Council, Roger Stone, was the first to go, followed after weeks of public criticism by the party’s police and crime commissioner (PCC) for South Yorkshire, Shaun Wright.
But the party went on to win the subsequent PCC by-election following Mr Wright’s resignation.
Other casualties of the scandal were the chief executive of the council, Martin Kimber, and its director of children’s services, Joyce Thacker.
Labour suspended four councillors in the wake of the revelations in the Jay Report and a party inquiry is going on.
Louise Casey is leading an inquiry into the council’s actions, the Independent Police Complaints Commission is investigating police officers’ actions, and the National Crime Agency is now investigating the exploitation.
Speaking to The Star after the meeting, Mr Miliband said the party is working to rebuild trust with South Yorkshire voters in the wake of the scandal.
He said Labour’s inquiry into its suspended councillors is running parallel to Louise Casey’s inquiry.
“We are determined to rebuild trust with the public,” he said.
“We took swift action at the time and that was the right thing to do.
“I read the Jay report and it is shocking.”
He said parties such as UKIP should not exploit the scandal as it was ‘beyond politics’, but added Labour is ‘taking our share of responsibility’ for what happened.