Government commissioners are taking over Rotherham Council amid damning fresh evidence that it failed to tackle widespread sex abuse in the town because of “misplaced political correctness” and then tried to silence people who wanted to expose the scandal.
The authority’s entire leadership resigned after a new inspection report accused it of being in denial about the operation of paedophile gangs mainly of Pakistani origin.
They subjected more than 1,400 children to rape, violence and trafficking over a 16-year period. According to the report, senior figures at the council were reluctant to intervene for fear of being labelled racist.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) signalled fresh prosecutions could be launched following the investigation by Louise Casey, who heads the government’s Troubled Families programme.
Concluding that the South Yorkshire authority was not “fit for purpose”, Ms Casey said: “The council’s culture is unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression and misplaced ‘political correctness’ have cemented its failures. The council is currently incapable of tackling its weaknesses, without a sustained intervention.
“People were unable to tackle race issues because they were too worried about being called racist. They decided such issues should be dealt with by people who were from the Pakistani community.”
Her report also found the council had “a culture of covering up uncomfortable truths, silencing whistleblowers and paying off staff rather than dealing with difficult issues”.
Following its publication, the authority’s Labour cabinet announced its intention to resign and the council leader, Paul Lakin, who only took up the post last year after the previous leader quit, stepped down with immediate effect.
Minutes later the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, who commissioned the Casey report, told MPs that the council’s “wholly dysfunctional” cabinet would be replaced by commissioners appointed by the Government and the whole council would be put up for election next year.
Mr Pickles lambasted the authority for a “complete failure of political and officer leadership”.
He said: “Both members and officers lack the confidence to tackle difficult issues for fear of being seen as racist or upsetting community cohesion. The council is currently incapable of tackling its weakness without substantial intervention.”
The NCA said it would “examine a number of potentially criminal matters identified during a recent inspection of Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council”.
An investigation by Professor Alexis Jay provoked horror after it concluded last year that 1,400 children had suffered sexual exploitation between 1997 and 2013.
But Ms Casey said the number was “conservative” and criticised many of those she interviewed for doubting the figure, saying that the council and police should focus instead on taking “effective action” against abuse.
Rotherham’s Labour MP, Sarah Champion, described the new report’s findings as “disgusting” and said every page contained a “new horror”. Ukip, which is targeting the town’s parliamentary constituency at the general election, called for immediate council elections instead of delaying them until 2016.
“This is simply too late. It is only by giving the people of Rotherham a full say in the future of the town, that we can build the community support that we will need to move forward,” said Caven Vines, Ukip’s leader on the council.
It was reported yesterday that two Rotherham councillors and a police officer in the town had been accused of having sex with victims of abuse.
The police officer has also been accused of passing information on to abusers in the town, while a colleague of the officer has reportedly been accused of failing to take appropriate action after receiving information about his conduct. Both have been reported to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
Hear no evil, see no evil: What the report found
Rotherham Council was in denial about the extent of child sexual exploitation in the town, the report said.
The council has “a culture of covering up uncomfortable truths”. Its culture was summarised as “unhealthy: bullying, sexism, suppression”.
The report quoted one unnamed councillor who said: “The girls, the way they dress, they don’t look 14-15 years old; the way they make up – they look more adult.
“They go in to clubs, get served in bars. If you have identified so many perpetrators, why have there been so little arrests?”
The report was also damning about South Yorkshire Police’s response. “[The girls] were threatened with wasting police time; they were told they had consented to sex and, on occasion, they were arrested at the scene of a crime, rather than the perpetrators.”