Following an investigation into the Rotherham child abuse scandal, Council leader Roger Stone has announced that he is to step down with immediate effect. He said: “I think it is only right that I, as leader, take responsibility on behalf of the council for the historic failings that are so clearly described in the report.”
The investigation has found evidence of “appalling” exploitation of at least 1,400 children in Rotherham over a period of 16 years. A report highlighting the abuse was submitted to the police and the council in 2002, but was “effectively suppressed.”
Independent reviewer Alexis Jay OBE said: It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that the victims suffered.
“Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.”
The report highlights a variety of historical and serious child protection failings and concludes the council and other agencies should have done more to protect those at risk.
Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber offered his “sincere apologies” to the victims of child sexual exploitation in the town, branding it a deplorable situation”. In a news conference he said he wants to “reassure young people that their past experiences will not just shape services in Rotherham, but we will use the independent inquiry report to makes sure that the failings of Rotherham in the past don’t become failings of another town in the future.”
So what are the issues?
- At the moment the former councillor in charge of children’s services is being blamed for not resigning when the reports of the abuse were produced on his watch. He is remaining adamantly opposed to moving by claiming that he didn’t know of the abuse himself. How long he will last is anybody’s guess. The topic of mandatory reporting has been raised on more than one occasion in relation to this.
- Mandatory reporting as envisaged would not catch the head of children’s services in this context unless the children were actually in care or being cared for in some other way at the time eg in a school. If, however, it could be proved that they knew about abuse and did nothing about it then there would be an argument in favour of a prosecution, should such a law be in force, which it isn’t yet in the United Kingdom.
- The attitude to prosecution is a familiar story, namely the concentration on the weakness of the complainant as a witness rather than the police undertaking a proactive campaign to search for the perpetrators.
- Victims of sexual exploitation are bound to be reticent in giving evidence and a lot of work has to be done by the police to make them safe. The police have to go out looking for such a crime. It seems that their reaction to complaints was to say that it was one person’s word against another and that evidence was not strong enough to stand up in Court. What they should have done of course is map intelligence and get a group of complainants together in an orchestrated way.
- The CPS attitude to prosecution arises from the disastrous Home Affairs Select Committee Report of 2003 when “trawling” was outlawed by this committee in a some what misguided way even though the findings were rejected by the Home Office – I discussed this in an earlier blog here – Trawling rears its ugly head again
- The complainants have an interesting compensation case against the Council in negligence in that obvious signs of the abuse were ignored, but are they thus entitled to damages for all the abuse or just that which took place after the report was made. Would the Council have been able to stop the abuse if they had acted. This is certainly true of the police, but what about the Council?
- Obviously, should there be a criminal investigation which seems likely the victims can go the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority as victims of crimes of violence, which includes any type of abuse. There are now, however, quite strict time delay rules applicable.
- Could an action be brought against the police? Possibly but there are quite a few difficult cases to overcome such as Hill v Chief Constable for West Yorkshire (1988) HL. Causation again will be an issue.
Rotherham is not the only community to have uncovered such abuse. There have also been arrests or prosecution of groups of men in 11 towns and cities, including Oldham, Rochdale and Derby. An earlier blog I did in May 2012 refers to this.