Child abuse inquiry ‘scared of racist tag’

It isn’t just Maggie Oliver with reservations about this recent tranch of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse; Sarah Champion the MP for Rotherham and Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor  have concerns as well. Andrew Norfolk and Hardeep Singh write in The Times

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), which is seeking to establish “what went wrong and why” in relation to past “institutional failure to protect children” from abuse, is investigating child sexual exploitation by “organised networks”.

Earlier parts of the inquiry, which have looked at institutions including the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church, focused on many of the worst-known scandals involving such organisations. It was anticipated that the organised networks strand of the inquiry would examine the most infamous examples of group grooming and exploitation.

Sammy Woodhouse, a Rotherham victim, claimed that those running the statutory inquiry, which began in 2015 and has cost £143 million so far, “have not placed survivors at the forefront” and are “selective in what they decide to look at”. She added: “If you are going to get to the root of gang-related child sexual exploitation you need to go right to the heart of it. They are trying to bury what happened in places like Rotherham and Rochdale because they’re scared of being called racist.”

The article details the history of the grooming sex gang trials over this last 10 years, mentioning the most high profile;  Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford, Telford, Burnley, High Wycombe, Leicester, Dewsbury, Peterborough, Halifax and Newcastle upon Tyne.

The IICSA held two weeks of public hearings for its “organised networks” investigation from late September, and a final day for closing submissions is due to take place on Thursday. It decided to hear no evidence from survivors or those with expert knowledge of the crime pattern.

The inquiry chose instead to select six areas of England and Wales: St Helens, Tower Hamlets in east London, Swansea, Durham, Bristol and Warwickshire “because they represent a range of sizes, demographics and institutional practices”. None of the six has witnessed a major prosecution of a south Asian sex-grooming gang. In all six areas, according to the 2011 national census, the proportion of the population that is of Pakistani origin is lower than the national average.

The Pakistani proportion of population in Tower Hamlets is pretty high if you were to define people of Bangladeshi origin as from East Pakistan, many arrived in London when the two countries were one, East and West Pakistan, the Muslim portion after the partition of India. The criminal activity in London has been small trials, 3 men abusing one girl is an example that springs to mind, or has been ‘dealt with’ without actual prosecutions. And in Bristol the abuse gang was Somali men, Muslims but from a different continent. So it isn’t just a ‘Pakistani’ problem. It’s a Muslim problem. Pakistani Christians are not involved. Sikhs are not involved as perpetrators, although Sikh girls have been victims. Jains and Buddhists and Tibetans are not involved. 

Henrietta Hill, QC, lead counsel to the inquiry said that the inquiry decided not to focus on those area such as Rochdale, Rotherham and Oxford which had received much public attention but tha it was more appropriate to focus on  “different areas, not least because it was intended that this was a forward-looking investigation building on analysis that’s already been done”. Having my roots in that area I was quite looking forward to hear what Tower Hamlets had done about the incidents which reach public consiousness from time to time. The thwarted ‘uck’ parties over a kebab shop. The rumours of the goings on at Stratford MacDonalds (technically that is Newham, but I expect East London police divisions and councils to work together. Stratford and Mile End are one stop apart on the tube.) But I couldn’t find it reported. That may be my lack of time to drill through the minutes. 

One witness, Detective Chief Superintendent Daniel Richards of South Wales police, told the inquiry there was “no data” to support the suggestion that there were any incidents of child sexual exploitation related to gangs in the Swansea area. 

Funny thing. The police in Barrow in Furness have been saying the same thing, and actually have a young woman in custody awaiting trial for attempting to pervert the course of justice because she insists that there is and she is a victim. Then lo!  West Yorkshire police make arrests of men who have been abusing girls in Leeds and Cumbria, specifically Barrow in Furness. The trials are fixed for next year. 

As chief crown prosecutor for northwest England, Mr Afzal led the groundbreaking 2012 prosecution of nine members of a sex-grooming network who took Rochdale girls across northern England to be sexually abused. He described the IICSA’s conduct of the investigation as “a nonsense”. “With the other strands of this inquiry it’s been about looking back at what went wrong to see what we can learn from those mistakes. This section decided it was going to look forward, but you can’t move forward without looking back at the failures.”

Ms Champion, who campaigns for the child victims of sexual exploitation, said the IICSA’s decision to exclude oral evidence of sex-grooming networks in northern England was extraordinary. “You have to question what they are trying to achieve. It’s more than a missed opportunity. So many survivors pinned their hopes on this inquiry getting to the truth.”

The inquiry’s final public hearings will take place in December. Reports will be published throughout next year with a final report due to be published in 2022.


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