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Grooming gangs review: Almost 50,000 people sign petition demanding release of government research into characteristics

Government must respond to petition, which could spark debate in parliament

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 06 March 2020 12:41 GMT
A group of men convicted in 2018 of offences as part of a grooming gang in Rotherham
A group of men convicted in 2018 of offences as part of a grooming gang in Rotherham (PA)

Almost 50,000 people have signed a petition demanding that the government release its research into the characteristics of grooming gangs.

Having exceeded 10,000 signatures, the government must respond to the appeal, which is the result of an article in The Independent revealing that the Home Office refused to publish the document and claimed it was not 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, which had 48,000 signatures by Friday afternoon, will be considered for a debate in parliament if the total passes 100,000.

It 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 website, had 12,250 signatures.

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.”

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 has made no further announcements on the research.

In response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request that asked 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.

In a letter to The Independent, 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.

Rotherham grooming ring: seven men convicted of sexually exploiting vulnerable teenage girls

“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.”

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.

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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