Former senior managers and councillors at Rotherham Council in charge when the town’s child abuse scandal unfolded have been criticised for their “miserable silence” after refusing or ignoring requests to participate in £440,000 inquiries into how the authority failed 1,400 victims.
Six independent inquiries ordered in the wake of the damning Jay report in 2014 which first uncovered the extent of the abuse in the town were branded a “completely wasted opportunity” by Rotherham MP Sarah Champion after they concluded no individual senior managers and social workers could be brought to account.
Angry victims told a heated council meeting at Rotherham Town Hall they still did not have answers over the scandal, which unfolded between 1997 and 2013.
Among those who declined to participate in interviews were former council leaders Roger Stone and Paul Lakin, former director of children’s services Joyce Thacker and former South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright, who had been a councillor in charge of children’s services between 2005 and 2010.
Other senior figures named in one report as refusing to participate were Christine Brodhurst-Brown, a former youth services manager, Tom Cray, a past director of neighbourhoods and adult services, Simon Perry, ex-director of targeted services and Howard Woolfenden, the former director of safeguarding.
The report did say Mr Woolfenden, Mr Perry and Mrs Thacker had subsequently submitted written responses “in respect of a number of points”.
A total of 27 people investigators wished to interview either failed to respond or declined requests. Six further senior figures, including former chief executives Mike Cuff, Ged Fitzgerald and Martin Kimber, also declined to be interviewed but agreed to respond to written questions.
Current council leader Chris Read said it was difficult to accept findings that no one could be held to account and strongly criticised those who refused to co-operate. “I hope those who refused to take part, including those former Labour councillors, understand the consequences of their choice. Our survivors deserve far better than their miserable silence,” he said.
The report examining the conduct of senior employees over the years covered by the scandal said: “It is unfortunate that the individuals listed were not prepared to be interviewed. As many of them were in post at the council across the latter years of the relevant period, it does mean that the evidence we have been able to report in respect of that period is somewhat limited.
“Former leader Roger Stone and lead member for children’s services, Shaun Wright declined to participate, and Paul Lakin, also a lead member for children’s services, cancelled our interview and did not re-schedule. That is disappointing as these former members could have made a useful contribution to the investigation.”
'More cock-up than conspiracy' - claim
Failures by senior managers at Rotherham Council were found to be “more cock-up than conspiracy” by investigators.
A report found: “We have not found evidence to support any notion that any individual ‘turned a blind eye’ to CSE in Rotherham. In our view, no individual officer can or should be held out as solely or principally culpable for the council’s failings.”
Report author Mark Greenburgh told a council meeting: “No one person was uniquely culpable. Put plainly, it was more cock-up than conspiracy.”
But he added there had been “surprising lapses of memory” from some of the people who were interviewed.