Grooming gangs review was ‘internal’, government says after 120,000 people demand publication

‘Fact-finding work’ to be used in wider review of child sexual abuse

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Saturday 25 April 2020 20:31
Government refusal to publish ‘characteristics’ of grooming gangs research could be debated by MPs

A review of grooming gangs promised by former home secretary Sajid Javid was “internal”, the government has said after more than 120,000 people called for it to be published.

In response to the petition, a spokesperson said the “fact-finding work” would inform an upcoming strategy on child sexual abuse.

“As part of our work, we have completed a review of existing literature,” a statement added.

“We have spoken to investigators and safeguarding professionals to better explore the challenges in investigating these crimes and their understanding of the offenders and victims of group-based child sexual exploitation.”

The Independent understands that a final decision on whether to publish the findings has not yet been made.

Mr Javid first promised the review 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 a freedom of information (FoI) request from The Independent asking for any research carried out, officials claimed publication was not in the “public interest”.

The article sparked a petition on the government website, which has so far been signed by almost 122,000 people.

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

Jailed members of a Huddersfield grooming gang

A separate petition calling for the report to be released, on the website, has more than 14,000 signatures.

The issue could be debated in parliament, but it is not fully sitting because of coronavirus and the outbreak has delayed the work of a committee that schedules petition debates.

The government’s statement was issued seven weeks after the petition passed the threshold requiring an official response.

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.”

The government statement said tackling child sex abuse was its “top priority”, adding: “Any insights gained from our internal work will inform our future action to end this devastating abuse, including the forthcoming strategy.”

The statement did not include any findings but said perpetrators “come from many different age groups, communities, ethnicities and faiths”.

The child sexual abuse strategy will set out future work across government, law enforcement, education, social work and industry to stop offenders and to help survivors rebuild their lives.

“It is right, proper and routine for the government to carry out internal fact-finding work as part of policy development, as we do across a range of crime threats,” the statement added.

“Any insights gained from this important internal work will be used to inform our future action to end this devastating abuse.”

The government said it had increased funding for services supporting victims of sexual violence and was working to improve the police response to sexual exploitation.

It added: “Extremists may also seek to exploit legitimate concerns to sow further division. The government will continue to challenge these views and to help communities unite.”

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