That Dan Hodges piece (see previous) is about as subcutaneously irritating as it can get. But that is only part of the great flannelling which is how this Rotherham story has become.
- At no time in all this does anyone recognise where the whole story, as currently represented, comes from. The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham, 1997-2013 was commissioned by and for … Rotherham Council. And presumably paid for by them, too.
- Ever since 2001 Rotherham Council has funded the Risky Business youth project, which:
worked with young people between 11 and 25 years, providing sexual health advice, and help in relation to alcohol and drugs, self-harm, eating disorders, parenting and budgeting. By the late ‘90s, it was beginning to identify vulnerable girls on the streets of the town. Its relationship with any young person was voluntary on both sides. It was part of the Council’s Youth Services, though it derived its funding from various sources in its early years. One of its main functions was the provision of training to voluntary and statutory agencies working in the field, to magistrates, the Police, schools and foster carers.
Risky Business is one of the few good-news stories here.
- The failings were at management level, as Professor Jay calls it:
the collective failures of political and officer leadership were blatant. From the beginning, there was growing evidence that child sexual exploitation was a serious problem in Rotherham. This came from those working in residential care and from youth workers who knew the young people well.
Within social care, the scale and seriousness of the problem was underplayed by senior managers.
- Surely, the main failing was with the South Yorkshire Police. Again from Professor Jay:
At an operational level, the Police gave no priority to CSE, regarding many child victims with contempt and failing to act on their abuse as a crime. Further stark evidence came in 2002, 2003 and 2006 with three reports known to the Police and the Council, which could not have been clearer in their description of the situation in Rotherham. The first of these reports was effectively suppressed because some senior officers disbelieved the data it contained. This had led to suggestions of cover- up. The other two reports set out the links between child sexual exploitation and drugs, guns and criminality in the Borough. These reports were ignored and no action was taken to deal with the issues that were identified in them.
This becomes even more glaringly obvious when we reach paragraphs 4.1 and 4.2 of the Jay Report:
4.1 Children’s social care introduced CSE as a category for referral in 2001. However, many exploited children were wrongly categorised as being ‘out of control’. Prior to January 2013, the Police did not have a separate category for CSE. Neither agency had compiled reliable data that the Inquiry could use to estimate the scale of the problem over time. There was good information about cases open to the CSE team or co-worked by them, but information about other children being supported by children’s social care was not easily obtained. [My emphasis]
4.2 In the chart above we summarise what we were able to find out about caseloads and contacts received by children’s social care. The data must be treated with caution. The figures were not collected or presented in a systematic way from year to year. Nevertheless, the chart gives a broad indication of the scale of the problem as reflected in children’s social care records.
I am aware from my own past connection with local authority business that the casework-load for social workers is excessive. Even now, Rotherham’s specialist child sexual exploitation team has 51 active cases, and sixteen looked after children who were identified by children’s social care as being at serious risk of sexual exploitation or having been sexually exploited.
- It would be helpful if we were told what the case-loads are for social workers is in Rotherham. This has been more than a niggling problem for years. Nationally, it is a problem. In areas of severe deprivation it can be overwhelming.
- The starting salary for a full-time, qualified social worker in Rotherham is £22,443 a year.
So, let’s consider spending constraints. In fact, Professor Jay does that for us, too:
The combined effect of changes to local authority funding in England has been a dramatic reduction in resources available to Rotherham and neighbouring Councils. By 2016, Rotherham will have lost 33% of its spending power in real terms compared to 2010/11.
For the current financial year (i.e. after Rotherham’s problem had been identified, and lambasted by the Commons Select Committee) that‘s:
a £23 million programme of cuts – as well as a tax increase – in Rotherham Council’s budget for the [present] year.
The authority has already had to slash £70 million from its spending plans over the last four years, and needs to find another £23m of savings by next April.
A council tax increase of 1.9 per cent – the first rise in the town for four years – has been proposed, but ‘frontline services’ will be affected in the latest round of cuts.
Those cuts to ‘frontline services’ include:
children and young people’s services will lose £3m.
Rotherham, lest we forget, ranks 310th of the 324 English authorities in the Experian Resilience Index.
Any monstering there should properly start with Eric Pickles at the Department of Communities and Local Government.
There is one other operation that requires a severe monstering: the South Yorkshire Police.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) concluded that officers in its public protection unit spent “a great deal deal of time trying to disprove” victims’ allegations.
HMIC’s chief inspector, Tom Winsor, ordered South Yorkshire police to end immediately the culture of “investigate-to-record”, where officers do not record incidents as possible crimes until they have been investigated.
Of the violent offences, including rape, that had been written off as “no crime” by the force, just under a fifth were wrongly classified and should have been pursued, inspectors found.HMIC examined 66 recorded crimes of rape, violence and robbery that South Yorkshire police had recorded as no-crime but found that 11 of these – equal to 17% – were incorrectly classified.
The report said: “This culture of dealing with reports of crime shows a disregard for victims and is unacceptable; it hides the true extent of the picture of crime from the force and is particularly concerning when the offences investigated by this unit are often of the most serious nature and victims are often the most vulnerable.” […]
The HMIC also raised concerns about South Yorkshire police’s recording of crimes including child abuse.
Winsor said that inspectors had examined 53 reports to South Yorkshire’s specialist departments. Out of those, 34 crimes should have been recorded – but only 18 were, the report said. Of these 18 crimes, eight fell outside the 72-hour limit allowed to record incidents.
The report found: “This level of under-recorded crime is a significant cause of concern and is a matter of material and urgent importance, particularly as some of these relate to violence and sexual assault against vulnerable children.”
South Yorkshire police currently have 173 “live” investigations into suspected child sexual exploitation, 32 of which are in Rotherham, a spokeswoman for the force said on Thursday. [again, my emphasis]
So there are 141 “live” CSE investigations going on in the other three administrative areas of the South Yorkshire Police Authority. Obviously Rotherham may not be quite the worst cess-pit of depravity.
South Yorkshire Police previously distinguished themselves in the 1984 Miner’s Strike and at the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
After Orgreave, South Yorkshire police claimed they had been attacked by striking miners, and prosecuted 95 people for riot and unlawful assembly, offences that carried potential life sentences. All were acquitted, after defence lawyers argued that police evidence was false, fabricated and that an officer’s signature on a statement was forged.
[Michael] Mansfield [QC], who defended three of the accused miners, describes the prosecutions as “the biggest frame-up ever”. Mansfield argues that South Yorkshire police, under [Chief Constable Peter] Wright, had been “institutionally corrupt” and was still unreformed when the Liverpool supporters came to Sheffield for the FA Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest.
Lord Justice Taylor, in his official report into Hillsborough, published in 1990, judged that mismanagement by South Yorkshire police was the prime cause of the disaster, yet the force relentlessly sought to lay the blame on the Liverpool supporters. A unit of senior officers, reporting to Wright, oversaw that case, ordering junior officers to rewrite their statements, to delete criticisms of the police’s own operation and emphasise allegations that supporters were drunk and misbehaving.
In those days, of course, the South Yorkshire Police had a firm friend in 10 Downing Street. The private briefing that Margaret Thatcher was given (to be told only what she and the police wanted her to hear) the day after Hillsborough, and the equally-misleading report of Merseyside Chief Constable Sir Kenneth Oxford only came into the public domain in 2012.