Rotherham councillor Jahangir Akhtar steps down over claims

Jahangir Akhtar Allegations against Jahangir Akhtar have been referred to the police

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The deputy leader of Rotherham Council has stepped down over claims he knew about a relationship between a girl in care and a suspected child abuser.

Jahangir Akhtar's decision follows the publication of one woman's account of being allowed contact with the alleged abuser from 1999, when aged 14.

The Times newspaper reported Mr Akhtar is related to the alleged offender and was aware of their relationship.

Mr Akhtar said he was resigning out of "courtesy". He denies the claims.

The Labour councillor said he was also standing down as vice-chairman of the Police and Crime Panel, which scrutinises the local force.

Mr Akhtar said: "I am standing down temporarily as deputy leader of the Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council and as vice-chairman of the Police and Crime Panel as a matter of courtesy to those agencies to resolve any inquiry as quickly as possible."

A spokesman for Rotherham Council said: "The council has referred the allegations made in the Times newspaper relating to Councillor Akhtar to South Yorkshire Police to consider if any criminal offence has been committed and to undertake any appropriate criminal investigation."

'Predatory men'

South Yorkshire Police said it had begun an investigation but would not comment further until it was complete.

Mr Akhtar's decision to step down comes as lawyers for four women said they were set to sue Rotherham Council for "systematic failures to protect them from sexual abuse by predatory men" when they were children.

One of the women, now in her 20s, told the Times she began a relationship with a 24-year-old man, who had served two prison sentences for violent offences, in 1999, when she was 14.

It is understood the man twice made the girl pregnant.

The newspaper said social services became aware before the relationship ended that the man was part of a ring of men suspected of abusing more than 40 young teenagers in Rotherham.

The article states that by June 2000, both police and social services knew the teenager, who had been placed in emergency foster care, was in a sexual relationship with the man.

'Fatal damage'

Lawyer David Greenwood, who is acting for some of the alleged victims, said: "It is very likely that my clients will be taking legal action against Rotherham Council and potentially the police for failing to protect them over a long period of time."

Police criticised The Times article, saying: "South Yorkshire Police deeply regrets the decision by The Times newspaper to publish an article about an ongoing, complex and highly sensitive investigation into matters of historic child sexual exploitation.

"The Times newspaper contacted South Yorkshire Police on Monday, 19 August announcing its intention to publish an article about these issues. In response, the force informed the newspaper that any such publication could seriously undermine and, at worst, cause fatal damage to this inquiry."

The Times said it published the story despite South Yorkshire Police's request because it "wants to see justice for child sex exploitation victims".

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