Rochdale Council accepts child grooming report findings

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Rochdale Council has accepted a report by MPs on child sexual exploitation that said it had failed to keep children and young people safe.

The Home Affairs Committee said the authority and other agencies had been "inexcusably slow" to protect young girls who were being groomed.

MPs began taking evidence after nine Rochdale men - eight with Pakistani backgrounds - were jailed last year.

The report said victims were still being failed.

The ninth man jailed was from an Afghan background.

Gladys Rhodes White, Children's Services director at Rochdale Council, said previous failings were "unacceptable" and staff were being trained to spot grooming and protect victims.

"There are lots of people that need to work together to deal with this horrendous crime.

"What we have done is make sure everybody understands how child sexual exploitation works: the grooming process, the impact on victims, the way perpetrators operate, and we are prepared to deal with all those strands in a collective way.

"So our training and our awareness raising is absolutely essential if we are to stop this activity."

In 2012, Ms White replaced Steve Garner, who resigned following an independent report criticising the department.

'Very angry'

The Home Affairs Committee said the council had been "inexcusably slow" to realise what had been going on in the area due "in large part to a woeful lack of professional curiosity".

Committee chairman Keith Vaz said MPs were "very angry" about what former Rochdale Council Chief Executive Roger Ellis and other officials told the committee.

"They knew it was going on, it was all over the radio, in the newspapers, it was all over the country, but they still didn't take effective action: it was all very defensive."

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk is calling for Mr Ellis to return a payoff he received when he took early retirement in 2011.

The Labour MP said: "He was the head of the organisation that had a culture where these girls were believed to be making life choices, and that's just not acceptable.

"We have seen generous taxpayer-funded settlements for some of these senior managers and I think it's right and proper that they do pay this money back."

'No simple link'

The committee said that recent cases had typically involved large networks of Pakistani-heritage abusers who preyed on vulnerable white girls.

Mr Danczuk said: "What is clear is there seems to be a small group of Pakistani men who are prepared or encouraged to commit this type of crime and I think if we are aware of that, then I think we can be more guarded about it, we can educate more about it.

"But it's right not to believe that it's just Pakistani men - it is a complex area."

He added: "Cultural differences are no defence for grooming young children - it's not a defence to say 'I live a different kind of life' or 'I believe the age of consent is younger because of my cultural experience'."

Imam Irfan Chishti, from the Rochdale Council of Mosques, said there were also different models of grooming which should not be ignored.

"This kind of behaviour is not acceptable from whichever community it comes from, and this particular model of behaviour, as the report has suggested, is specific to some people of Pakistani heritage - so, yes, we do need to look at that, but there's no simple link between race and child exploitation."

Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said what took place in Rochdale "could happen again".

He said: "There's three issues we haven't dealt with. One is the issue of what do you do with young people who are out of the control of their parents or their care authorities, and [another is] the experience any victim of sexual offences has in court.

"The third issue is how we deal with suspected offenders when the victim doesn't want to make a complaint, and that's what we should be concentrating on."

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