Grooming gangs review: Government refusal to publish ‘characteristics’ research could be debated by MPs after 100,000 sign petition

Home Office previously denied Freedom of Information request by The Independent, claiming publication was not ‘in the public interest’

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 10 March 2020 08:43
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Government refusal to publish ‘characteristics’ of grooming gangs research could be debated by MPs

The government’s refusal to publish its research into the “characteristics” of grooming gangs could be debated by MPs.

More than 100,000 people have signed an official petition demanding the report is published, meaning it must be considered for debate in parliament.

The petition was sparked by an Independent article revealing that the Home Office refused to publish the document, claiming the move would not be in the “public interest”.

“We, the British public, demand the release of the official research on grooming gangs undertaken by the government in full,” the petition says.

It cites another Independent article, which revealed that almost 19,000 suspected child victims of sexual exploitation were identified by local authorities in just one year.

The petition has been signed by people across the UK, as well as British citizens abroad in countries including Australia, Japan and Thailand.

A separate petition calling for the report to be released, on the Change.org website, has around 13,000 signatures.

Sajid Javid promised the review as home secretary in July 2018, pledging that there would be “no no-go areas of inquiry”.

He said that abusers convicted in high-profile cases had been “disproportionately from a Pakistani background”, adding: “I will not let cultural or political sensitivities get in the way of understanding the problem and doing something about it.”

Mr Javid said officials had been instructed to “explore the particular contexts and characteristics” of grooming gangs, but the government later claimed the work was only for internal use.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from The Independent asking for the research carried out and any reports drawn up as a result, the Home Office said it held the information but would not release it.

Officials said they had applied a “public-interest test”, but the information was exempt from the FoI act because it could be used for government policy and included “operationally sensitive” information from police.

“The information could be misleading if made public and used out of context,” the letter added.

“We recognise that this topic in general and any insight and learning are matters of strong public interest, although it does not necessarily follow that it is in the public interest to disclose any specific information relating to it.”

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Mottershaw of West Yorkshire Police speaking outside Leeds Crown Court about Huddersfield grooming gang

Survivors of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham said they believed the research was going to be made public and accused the government of making “empty promises”.

Sarah Champion, the Labour MP for Rotherham, and the former chief prosecutor who initiated charges against a grooming gang in Rochdale are among those demanding its release.

Diane Abbott, the shadow home secretary, said: “There must be no more cover-ups around these horrific crimes and no more inaction from the government.

“Many of the girls will never recover from the abuse they suffered and they and their families deserve all the facts. This report should be published.”

The Home Office said it will soon publish a national strategy that will set out a “whole system response to all forms of child sexual abuse”.

A spokesperson said: “We’re pursuing work on a number of fronts to understand the characteristics of group-based offending and the contexts in which it occurs. This includes ongoing work commissioned by the previous home secretary and will inform future government policies on child sexual abuse.”

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