Shaun Wright and Joyce Thacker reject committee’s calls to quit

PCC Shaun Wright facing the Home Affairs Committee
PCC Shaun Wright facing the Home Affairs Committee
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Leading figures involved in the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal rejected repeated calls to quit from MPs as they were grilled over their failures.

Both South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, and Joyce Thacker, head of children’s services at Rotherham Council, said they intended to stay in their posts - even as they were told to consider their positions by members of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee this afternoon.

Martin Kimber and Joyce Thacker facing the Home Affairs Committee

Martin Kimber and Joyce Thacker facing the Home Affairs Committee

Keith Vaz, chairman of the committee, called for Mr Wright’s immediate resignation, and said he would speak to the Home Secretary about bringing in emergency legislation that would allow him to be fired.

The hearing was told both Ms Thacker and Mr Wright had read a report in 2006 and 2007 which named 100 potential victims.

The committee also criticised former South Yorkshire Police chief constable Med Hughes, who ran the force between 2004 and 2011 and is now a non-executive director of Sheffield Children’s NHS Foundation Trust.

All three of the witnesses separately insisted they had not been aware of the ‘scale’ of child abuse in Rotherham, after the Jay Report revealed last month there had been at least 1,400 victims between 1997 and 2013.

Med Hughes facing the Home Affairs Committee

Med Hughes facing the Home Affairs Committee

Current South Yorkshire Police chief constable David Crompton, and Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber, who announced his resignation earlier this week, were also called to give evidence to the hearing.

Mr Wright said resigning would have been the ‘easy option’ and claimed he had received ‘in excess of 100 messages of support’ from individuals including MPs and councillors. But he refused to name any of the people who he says have offered him their backing.

Mr Wright told MPs the problem of child sexual exploitation was not flagged up to him as a significant issue during his period as the councillor with responsibility for children’s services in the town from 2005 to 2010.

He said: “I don’t recall one single external report from Ofsted or any other organisation that flagged CSE as being a significant issue.

“Over that period of time not one member of the public came to a surgery of mine, not one local councillor asked me a question, either in my political group or in full council, not one local MP in Rotherham raised the issue or a case of CSE for those five years.”

But Mr Vaz told him: “We don’t accept any of that.”

Mr Wright also said he ‘could not recall’ having a face-to-face meeting with a grooming victim who was said to have given him a ‘harrowing account’ of the abuse to which she had been subjected.

He said: “I can’t honestly say I was aware of the industrial scale described by Professor Jay until I read Prof Jay’s report.

“I have done nothing but reflect on my position - and I have determined that the best I can do for victims past, present and potentially future is to stay in my role and see through the work I have set in train.”

Ms Thacker also resisted calls to quit.

She said: “I have given that a lot of thought and I am not stepping aside, for the simple reason I am accountable to the people and the children and families in Rotherham.”

She also told the committee: “I could have done more. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. But I don’t accept there was a full dereliction of my duty.”

She said she could ‘recollect’ being shown reports in mid-2000s about abuse problems in the town, when she was involved with Risky Business, a youth outreach programme that highlighted concerns about grooming problems in Rotherham.

But she added the Jay Report’s estimate of 1,400 victims had been ‘deeply shocking’ to her.

Asked what she and Mr Wright had done about the problem, Ms Thacker replied: “We knew about child sexual exploitation and abuse but we didn’t know the scale of it - I have worked tirelessly to improve things in Rotherham and make sure people understood it was everyone’s business to stop this.”

Mr Vaz said the whole committee believed Ms Thacker should quit.

He said: “We don’t accept your evidence that you raised this and nobody was listening to you. You should resign as a matter of conscience.”

Earlier in the hearing Med Hughes, the former chief constable, said he had not been aware of three reports made in the early to mid-2000s about the town’s grooming problems, and had ‘felt sick’ when he had read them this week.

But Mr Vaz said his denials about his knowledge of Rotherham’s problems were ‘impossible to believe’.

Mr Hughes said: “I am not immune to the ideas that this is a hideous crime and I am deeply embarrassed.

“But I can say with honesty that at the time that I was both deputy and chief constable, I had no idea of the scale and scope of this type of organised crime.

“This is not something I would have turned a blind eye to, nor something I would have wilfully ignored.

“With respect to the evidence you have been given, those who know me personally know I would not turn a blind eye or cover up incidents of child abuse.

“I take no pleasure from this. I have had a 32-year police career, and yet on this issue I have failed the victims of these criminals and it hurts.

“It is something that I loathe.

“And to say that I am either misleading or lying to this committee, I can only answer by saying that I welcome the fact that there will be an independent inquiry into the documentation and the whole history of this force in respect of this.”

Mr Hughes denied an assertion by Tory committee member Michael Ellis that he had been ‘grossly incompetent’.

The ex-chief constable - who was among those considered as Labour’s candidate to be police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire - denied any personal political bias.

Mr Vaz said the former police’s chief’s evidence had been ‘totally unconvincing’ and said there were ‘serious questions to be asked’ of his conduct.