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How not to write about Rotherham

Rotherham Magistrates CourtSexual violence against women and girls comes in all skin colours, all languages, all forms of religious belief. One would hope its tacit acceptance by institutions laying claim to the protection of the most vulnerable lies in the distant past. But the report into the institutional silence, if not silencing of the victims of a Pakistani-descent paedophile gang shows this appalling abuse is not part of our uncomfortable yesterdays. It’s contemporary, it’s here, and lives are still being broken by sexual predators who rape children with seeming impunity.

Evidently, a lot of serious questions have to be asked in Rotherham. For instance, while our gutter press are playing up the Muslim/Pakistani connection I think more pertinent is a shared misogyny between the abusers and those tasked with enforcing the law and child protection. There’s an obvious case for council officials and police officers to be investigated, for digging up the roots of this casual attitude to grooming and rape. Sackings should follow and, if the CPS deems it appropriate, prosecutions where there is evidence the law has been broken. The 1,400 girls and young women victimised by the paedophile gang deserve nothing less, as do children everywhere at risk because of lackadaisical institutions. The last thing needed is political point scoring. That is exactly how not to write about child sex crimes.

This is why I’m going to pick on Louise Mensch. From the salubrious surrounds of her upper westside apartment, last night our failed Tory MP-turned Murdoch shill proclaimed in a series of tweets everything that was wrong in Rotherham.

When a number of tweeters pointed out that by her logic the Tory party also has some very serious questions to answer about Jimmy Saville et al, the reply came:

If you’re going to roll in muck, don’t be shocked if you attract a few flies.

Mensch’s line of argument has been picked up in the press today, and UKIP are running with it – as you might expect. After all, force a police and crime commissioner to step down and they have a reasonable chance of picking up the position and the patronage that comes with it. There are a couple of things worth noting with here. One is a shift in how social services work. As Paul from Though Cowards Flinch put it last night:

Paul is, of course, right. Social service departments across the land have been stripped of professional autonomy. The judgements of expert specialists have been trumped by a tier of local authority managers for whom their real concerns are the bottom line and career advancement. It’s not just social services or councils. Teaching, nursing, social security, everywhere you look the public service ethos is being stripped out in favour of arbitrary targets, be they assessment scores, turn around times, or semi-official application caps.

Against the backdrop of such a culture the needs are service users come second and perverse priorities – such as not being seen to be racist, as per Rotherham – come to the fore. As the crucible of this horrifying case things at the local authority and the police need looking at very carefully. But this is not enough: nothing less than a public inquiry and consultation into the prevailing culture of how our services are run is sufficient.

On the transparent attempt to damage Labour nationally by making out the local party in Rotherham was up to its neck in paedophiles, it is worth remembering that political parties do not run local authorities. They do not make day-to-day operational decisions or manage staff. Their job is to set the strategic priorities of a council, provide political direction, hold the officers (i.e. senior management) to account, and ensure the casework brought to their attention by residents is done.

During my time scrutinising a local authority up-close, I lost count of the times senior officers circumvented elected member decision-making, and manipulated it by misrepresenting facts, telling porkies or failing to pass information on to the councillor nominally overseeing their area of work. Thankfully, none of these matters were especially serious in the grand scheme of things. Therefore what was the political culture like in Rotherham? Did senior officers inform the politicians that a sex abuse epidemic was happening in the town? I don’t know, that is something to be established. If that was not passed on then appropriate action must be taken against officers who so acted.

Likewise, if any Labour councillors were aware of what happened and turned a blind eye, or took part in a cover up, then they should be prosecuted under the law. It really is that simple.

This post first appeared at All that is Solid

CC BY Image credit: “A Shining example of British Law” by Chris


  1. David Pavett says:

    “Likewise, if any Labour councillors were aware of what happened and turned a blind eye, or took part in a cover up, then they should be prosecuted under the law. It really is that simple.”

    I really don’t see how this could not have been the case given the long list of reports and briefings over the last 10 years or so. If anyone councillor didn’t know it is because he or she didn’t want to know. Yes those who didn’t lift a finger should be prosecuted but we all know that will not happen.

    An aspect of the report that has not received much (any?) comment is the role of Ofsted. Having criticised the Child services in 2003 by 2012 they seemed to think that things were basically okay.

    3.24 Ofsted conducted an inspection of Rotherham’s arrangements for the protection of children in July 2012. The findings were:

    a) Quality of Response:
     The overall effectiveness of the arrangements to protect children was considered to be ‘adequate’
     Information about missing children and children at risk of sexual exploitation was being shared at an early stage and the work was well coordinated
     There was good collaborative work between the local authority and the Police resulting in a targeted approach to tackling sexual exploitation
     The success of this approach was being strengthened by the commitment to create a team of qualified social workers based within the Public Protection Unit
     The inspection called for child-focused risk assessments in cases of domestic abuse and greater challenge of the safeguarding system;
    b) Management – With specific reference to the sexual exploitation of children, the report commended the specialist multi-agency team to support children at risk; and
    c) Openness, Equality – There should be careful evaluation of the feedback received from children and parents subject to child protection.

    3.25 The inspection found that the Local Safeguarding Children Board had become more effective, having established multi-agency sub-groups protecting children at risk of sexual exploitation. A recent serious case review had been considered to be ‘excellent’ by Ofsted. In order to provide a stronger challenge in key areas of child protection, the Board planned to sharpen its priorities and commission multi-agency case audits.

    Just another reason why Ofsted should be closed down. It continues however to be referred to by Tristram Hunt as the guarantor of high standards. The criticisms of Ofsted at the recent NPF were batted away.

    1. David Pavett says:

      Sorry, the bullet points in my quote from the Jay report above seem to have given the server indigestion.

      1. PoundInYourPocket says:

        As the Jay report says in 13.26, the 2006 Ofsted (Joint Area Review) report stated:
        “it appeared that vulnerable children and young people are kept safe from abuse and exploitation”
        This could well be used by councill officers such as Shaun Wright to defend their apparent inaction, making the claim that “officially” all was well.

  2. john reid says:

    Mencsh tweets make sense to me, i wouldn’t hold much breath on Laobur councillors being prosecuted for taking part in a cover up,im still waiting for half of Haringey council to be prosecuted for hindering the police investigation into Broadwater farm 29 years ago

  3. Multi-agency sub-groups may protect children by massive surrounding precence but will also seem to them like surveillance of everything they dox especially while they await police action.

    b) Management – With specific reference to the sexual exploitation of children, the report commended the specialist multi-agency team to support children at risk; and c) Openness, Equality – There should be careful evaluation of the feedback received fro

    As long as childrens’ feedback to multi agencies did not get intercepted by and diverted to the media instead.


  4. Lamia says:

    Of course Mensch is political goal-scoring. But to go after that as the main problem is to replicate the tribalism and arse-covering that allowed Rotherham to happen in the first place.

    Take it on the chin and focus on the real problem of culpability – and that is not, like it or not, Louise Mensch. The left will no doubt itself be gloating if/when the Westminster paedophile scandal is properly investigated – and Mensch will no doubt eirther be silent or will be making charges of political goal-scoring. You ought to be focussing – as you say you are – on aiding a general move to expose and punish child abuse whether it was yesterday or decades, and regardless of political affiliation, colour, religion etcetera. If you think you are better than Louise Mensch, rise above it, and don’t get bogged down with complaining about the messenger. The truth in all these cases is what needs bringing out. We should be thinking as citizens, not political partisans.

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