Former South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright will face no further action after a 14-month investigation found there was “insufficient evidence” to back up allegations he had committed perjury when discussing the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal with MPs.
A 26-page report published by the Independent Office for Police Conduct on Friday revealed Mr Wright refused to answer questions while being interviewed about the allegations under criminal caution in April this year after reading a prepared statement in which he denied lying under oath to MPs.
“He then exercised his right not to answer any further questions during his interview,” the IOPC report said.
The IOPC said it would not making a referral to the Director of Public Prosecutions after the watchdog investigated complaints from two people that Mr Wright had committed perjury when giving evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on September 9, 2014.
The hearing took place when he was still police and crime commissioner but was facing widespread calls to resign in the wake of the publication of a damning inquiry which had revealed at least 1,400 children in Rotherham had been sexually exploited between 1997 and 2013.
Mr Wright gave evidence under oath regarding his knowledge of allegations of widespread child sexual abuse in Rotherham during his time as cabinet member for children’s services at Rotherham Council, between 2005 and 2010.
The IOPC investigation considered four areas - whether Mr Wright had lied when he stated he did not receive reports detailing the extent of CSE in Rotherham; whether he had lied when stating he did not recall speaking to any abuse survivors at a barbecue organised by council youth outreach service Risky Business; whether he lied by stating he had not taken legal advice for the answers he was giving to MPs and whether he lied by stating he was not aware of the extent of CSE in Rotherham when he was a council cabinet member.
The IOPC said: “On the basis of the investigation report there is insufficient evidence to indicate that Mr Wright either knew his statement to be false or did not believe it to be true.”
Mr Wright resigned from the post a week after the select committee following further calls for him to step down, including at a heated public meeting in Rotherham where he was confronted by abuse survivors and family members.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel, which holds the local police and crime commissioner to account, received complaints against Mr Wright in 2015 and referred them to the police watchdog, then known as the IPCC. The watchdog initially refused to investigate the complaints and referred them to the Home Affairs Select Committee but subsequently reconsidered and opened an investigation after acknowledging it had mistakenly concluded perjury would not be a criminal offence and would instead be contempt of Parliament.
Last year, Mr Wright was among the former senior councillors and officers at Rotherham Council criticised for their “miserable silence” after refusing or ignoring requests to participate in a series of separate inquiries ordered by the authority into how abuse victims in the town were failed.
The investigation into the former PCC was conducted as part of the IOPC's broader Operation Linden inquiry into the police response to the large-scale CSE in Rotherham.
Earlier this year, it said it has had 106 individual case references as part of its Rotherham investigation, and it estimates this will result in around 84 individual investigation reports.
It said 33 police officers remain on notice that they are under investigation.
In July, the IOPC announced it was expanding its investigation to include the role of the force's former senior command team, although no individual senior officer is under investigation.
IOPC conclusions in perjury investigation
This is what the IOPC concluded in relation to the four areas it examined:
a) Whether Mr Wright lied when he stated he did not receive reports detailing the extent of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham.
Mr Wright gave evidence to the committee that he received four reports, none of which detailed the extent of CSE in Rotherham.
The IOPC said: “The investigation found nothing to confirm that Mr Wright received more than four reports relating to the matters before the Home Affairs Select Committee, and nothing to confirm that the reports he did receive set out the full extent of CSE at Rotherham.”
b) Whether Mr Wright lied when he stated he did not recall attending a barbecue for Risky Business nor speaking to any victims or survivors there
The first complainant against Mr Wright said they had witnessed Mr Wright speaking with survivors of CSE at a barbecue for Risky Business. The second complainant, a survivor of CSE, said they spoke to Mr Wright about their experiences of abuse in Rotherham. Mr Wright stated at the select committee that he did not recall such an event. The IOPC report said the second complainant had “declined to give a statement in relation to this investigation” to the watchdog.
The IOPC report concluded: “In his prepared statement, Mr Wright stated he did not recall attending a barbecue held or hosted by Risky Business. He also stated he did not, and still does not, recall any survivors of CSE telling him about their experiences of CSE during his time at Cabinet Member. He also stated such an event would have affected him emotionally, so he would have recalled it. The report records that the investigator has seen no further evidence to support or undermine the allegation Mr Wright lied by stating that he could not recall this meeting, while giving evidence at the HASC. In addition, the investigator has not seen any evidence which corroborates Complainant A’s account that Mr Wright did attend the barbeque and that Complainant A overheard Complainant B describing to Mr Wright the abuse they suffered.”
The IOPC report said Complainant A had suggested the date Mr Wright attended the barbecue would have been recorded in the Risky Business ‘signing in’ book. But the watchdog’s investigator was unable to get hold of a copy of the book because “records have been destroyed or removed”.
The report added Complainant A had named further survivors or victims who were present at the barbecue who could corroborate their account. But the report said that some of the survivors contacted by the IOPC as part of a wider ongoing probe into police misconduct linked to the Rotherham scandal were “unwilling to provide a statement to the IOPC at this time”.
c) Whether Mr Wright lied when he stated he did not take legal advice for the answers he gave at the Home Affairs Select Committee
The IOPC report said: “At the select committee, Mr Wright was asked if he had taken legal advice to state he “did not recall” events asked about when giving evidence. Mr Wright replied that he had not.
“When the investigator asked Mr Wright this at interview, he declined to comment. There are no further lines of enquiry that could ascertain evidence to prove the allegation that Mr Wright lied when he gave this answer under oath.
“Legal discussion between a legal advisor and their client is protected by ‘Legal Professional Privilege’ (LPP). LPP is part of common law, and protects a client from their legal advisor disclosing the advice that they have given. Therefore, any evidence that would prove this allegation against Mr Wright would be subject to LPP and therefore, not disclosable without consent.
“The IOPC considered whether it would be appropriate to ask Mr Wright to waive LPP and in our view it would not be, given the strong public interest arguments in support of maintaining this protection, and that Mr Wright is most unlikely to give such consent.”
d) Whether Mr Wright lied when he stated he was not aware of the extent of CSE in Rotherham during the time he was Cabinet Member.
The IOPC findings said: “Mr Wright agreed, in both his evidence at the Home Affairs Select Committee and in his interview, that he was aware that CSE existed in Rotherham. He stated that he was not, however, aware of the extent of such CSE.
“Professor Jay stated in her report that the evidence in the case suggested CSE in Rotherham was “extremely serious” which might have been an indication to Mr Wright that the prevalence of CSE was high. However it is not known if or when Mr Wright would have got this information. In addition, the trial was held in October 2010, which was after Mr Wright left office.
“Professor Jay stated that the “offences under Operation Central represented a small proportion of current CSE offences in the Borough” which suggested the operation did not highlight the true extent of CSE in Rotherham.”
The IOPC investigation started in June 2017 and concluded in August 2018. The watchdog said today it included a thorough review of the transcripts from the HASC meeting where the alleged offence took place, and included interviews with Mr Wright and a key independent witness. It also reviewed documents concerning CSA in the town, which Mr Wright was alleged to have received during his time at the council.
Sarah Green, the IOPC’s regional director, said: “We have now concluded our detailed investigation into the very serious allegation that Shaun Wright committed perjury when he gave evidence to HASC in 2014.
“I have given this matter very careful consideration and, on the basis of the evidence we have gathered, I have determined that the report does not indicate that a criminal offence may have been committed. Therefore, we will not refer the matter to the Director of Public Prosecutions to consider whether any criminal charges should be brought.
“We have now published our findings in full.”
To read the findings in full, visit the IOPC website.