UK

Far-right and far-left extremists use abuse for own agenda - Sarah Champion

Justice for Women and Children join a march in London
Image caption Justice for Women and Children at a march in London

People on the extreme left and right "are using some of the most abhorrent abuse of children for their own political agenda", Labour MP Sarah Champion has told Newsnight.

The ex-shadow minister said "we have created a vacuum which enables other groups to come in and exploit that".

Her comments followed an investigation into "Justice for Women and Children", who some campaigners say are the UK's first far-right group led by women.

The group deny being racist or fascist.

Sunderland-based Justice for Women and Children says it raises awareness about rape, sexual assault, grooming and child abuse, and has a helpline number for victims to call.

In August 2017, Rotherham MP Ms Champion quit her shadow minister role after writing in a newspaper: "Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls."

She apologised for her "extremely poor choice of words" and quit as shadow equalities minister.

In 2016, a Sunderland woman said she'd been raped by middle-eastern migrants.

A "justice" campaign was set up in her name, and the story attracted right wing groups to the city - including Britain First, the political organisation set up by former BNP members.

Up to 1,000 people attended some of the demonstrations.

The cause was taken up by Tommy Robinson - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - co-founder of the English Defence League, and now, controversially, a grooming gangs adviser to the UKIP leader Gerard Batten.

The groups have repeatedly claimed that gangs of men, mainly of Pakistani origin, who groomed and abused girls had not been properly investigated because of concerns over political correctness.

This year, a new campaign has emerged from Sunderland - also framed around the word "justice".

The founder of Justice for Women and Children, Natasha Allan, set up the group after four rapes were reported, some believed to have been carried out by asylum seekers.

Two men - one from Iran, one from Iraq - have recently been convicted of raping a woman in their bedroom in a flat that housed asylum seekers in Sunderland.

Justice for Women and Children says it calls out paedophiles and rapists, no matter their ethnicity, and that they upload articles about all varieties of sexual assault on their Facebook page. They have also asked contributors to refrain from using racist terms.

But Newsnight has found extreme, racist comments made by others on the site that haven't been moderated.

We've also found posts on Natasha Allan's personal Facebook page, including: "Islam is the evil of this world and they are taking over just by having baby's… if because i think Islam is evil makes me a racist then yeah I'll take that".

Image caption Sarah Champion MP tells Newsnight that some groups are using cases of abuse for their own political agenda

Matthew Collins, from anti-racism campaign Hope Not Hate, describes Justice For Women and Children as the "first far-right group to come centre stage, led by women" - a claim denied by the organisers.

Hope Not Hate claims some of those involved in the group have "long term associations with the far right".

Amongst them is Natasha Allan's brother Tommy Allan, who has sometimes appeared as a steward at Justice for Woman and Children's demonstrations.

He has been convicted for his part in the Dover Riots in 2016 when groups including the National Front clashed with anti-fascist demonstrators.

He's a member of the North East Infidels, a group that the counter extremism tsar for England and Wales Sara Khan describes as "extreme right wing".

Mr Allan didn't respond to Newsnight's enquiries.

Natasha Allan has previously said: "I'm not a racist, I'm not a fascist, I'm a concerned resident of Sunderland. I don't want to be raped and I don't want my children to be raped."

Her group regularly march and share platforms with the Democratic Football Lads' Alliance - described to Newsnight by a counter-terrorism source as the UK's biggest grassroots far-right street protest movement - and has been endorsed by UKIP's leader Gerard Batten.

'A new wave of far-right extremism'

Mr Batten has made the issue of grooming gangs, by men of mainly Pakistani heritage, one of his central focuses. Several prominent members of his party, including Nigel Farage, have left in protest at his association with people such as Tommy Robinson.

Rotherham was the centre of a sex abuse scandal in which 1,400 children were victims. An inquiry found council staff feared being labelled "racist" if they focused on victims' descriptions of the majority of abusers as "Asian" men.

Ms Champion told Newsnight it was "despicable" that certain groups were using the victims as pawns for "someone else's game".

Sara Khan, the counter extremism tsar for England and Wales said far-right activists will exploit the situation in certain places and recruit people to their cause.

She said the UK is at the "beginning of a new wave of far-right extremism".

She added that she was not surprised by what she saw in Sunderland.

"What you've shown me in Sunderland is a similar picture to what I've seen in other parts of the country."

She said that the far right were increasingly using the language of human rights of free speech and even women's rights.

You can watch Newsnight on BBC 2 weekdays 22:30 or on iPlayer. Subscribe to the programme on YouTube or follow them on Twitter.

More on this story