Grooming gangs review: MPs order government to say if research will be published after 125,000 sign petition

Petitions Committee says government ‘failed to respond’ to call to publish findings

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 12 May 2020 09:57 BST
Government refusal to publish ‘characteristics’ of grooming gangs research could be debated by MPs

MPs have ordered the government to publicly state whether it will publish a review of grooming gang “characteristics” and explain its decision.

Almost 125,000 people have signed a petition for the “release of the official research on grooming gangs undertaken by the government in full”.

It was sparked by an Independent article reporting that the Home Office had refused a Freedom of Information (FoI) request on the basis that publication was not in the “public interest”.

The government’s official response, published a month late, said the work announced by Sajid Javid in 2018 was “internal” and would inform an upcoming strategy on child sexual abuse.

The Petitions Committee, which considers all petitions on the government website that pass 100,000 signatures for debate in parliament, said the government had “not directly addressed the request”.

In a letter to the home secretary, committee chair Catherine McKinnel said a revised response must be provided by 20 May.

“This should clearly state whether the government will publish its research into the characteristics of group-based child sexual exploitation,” she added.

“If the government does plan to publish this, your response should set out in what form and when. If the government does not plan to publish this, your response should explain the reasons for this.”

Ms McKinnel told Priti Patel that the Petitions Committee had “received a significant volume of correspondence complaining about the government’s response”.

“Your department’s response to this petition was also substantially late,” the letter added.

“A response to this e-petition was requested on 6 March, but not received until 24 April. It has been agreed with the Leader of the House that the government will respond within 21 days, making your response four weeks late.

The letter was addressed to home secretary Priti Patel
The letter was addressed to home secretary Priti Patel (AP)

“I fully appreciate that the government is currently under significant pressure, but it is disappointing to receive a late response that also fails to adequately respond to the petition.”

The initial response said the government had completed a review of existing literature, spoken to investigators and safeguarding professionals to gather information on child sexual exploitation.

Mr Javid first 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 spoke about the ongoing work several times but the Home Office made no further announcements after he moved to the Treasury.

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.

In response to The Independent’s original FoI request, Home Office 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.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Tackling child sexual abuse is this government’s priority. Any insights gained from our internal work will inform our future action to end this devastating abuse, including the forthcoming strategy.”

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