PCC Shaun Wright resigns over Rotherham child abuse scandal

Media caption,
The BBC's Danny Savage: "The final straw came last week when the people of Rotherham confronted him in a public meeting"

South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright has resigned over the Rotherham child abuse scandal.

Mr Wright faced repeated calls to step down in the wake of a report which found at least 1,400 children were abused in the town from 1997 to 2013.

He was the head of children's services in Rotherham between 2005 and 2010.

Mr Wright said he was stepping down to ensure the "important issues" outlined in the report could be discussed and considered "without distraction".

In a statement, he said: "My role as South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner has clearly become prominent in terms of public opinion and media coverage following the publication of Professor Alexis Jay's report.

"This is detracting from the important issue, which should be everybody's focus - the 1,400 victims outlined in the report - and in providing support to victims and bringing to justice the criminals responsible for the atrocious crimes committed against them.

Media caption,
Shaun Wright told the BBC in August that he would not stand down

"With this in mind, I feel that it is now right to step down... for the sake of those victims, for the sake of the public of South Yorkshire and to ensure that the important issues outlined in the report about tackling child sexual exploitation can be discussed and considered in full and without distraction."

After Professor Alexis Jay's report was published on 26 August, Mr Wright faced calls to resign from Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband.

Media caption,
Victim "Jessica" tells 5 live: "Today's news is good news"

The report said girls as young as 11 were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, where they were abducted, beaten and intimidated, mainly by gangs of Pakistani heritage.

Following its publication, Mr Wright resigned from the Labour Party but said he would stay on as PCC, insisting he was the most appropriate person to hold the office.

After appearing before the Home Affairs Select Committee last week, committee chair Keith Vaz said he would ask the home secretary about the possibility of legislation to remove Mr Wright.

Analysis: Len Tingle, BBC Yorkshire Political Editor

So what happens now after Shaun Wright's belated resignation as South Yorkshire's Police and Crime Commissioner?

Elected for a three-and-a-half year term in November 2012, there are still 20 months to run before the next scheduled elections.

An inevitable by-election to replace him could lead to the largest, loudest and most confusing campaign for a police commissioner since the coalition government created them.

The idea to give "greater public accountability" over the country's 41 police forces met with abject voter apathy at the ballot box but the events in Rotherham over the past few weeks could change that.

Shaun Wright was elected with a turnout of just 15% but, in a police area dominated by Labour councils, he took over half of the vote and walked into his £85,000-a-year job.

Labour clearly has a problem approaching a by-election.

The party's total control of Rotherham Council during the period that the recent Jay Report highlighted the abuse and sexual assault of hundreds of girls will be a clear rallying cry for potential candidates particularly from the right.

The party has also said that if it wins the general election one of its first acts will be to abolish police and crime commissioners.

He was also the subject of votes of no confidence passed by Rotherham Borough Council, Sheffield City Council and the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Panel (PCP).

Harry Harpham, chair of the panel, said: "It's the right thing to do. I wish he'd resigned earlier.

"Now the task is to rebuild confidence and trust in those institutions which so badly let down the victims.

"The commissioner standing down means we can now focus on giving those victims the support they need."

Image source, Dave Bevis
Image caption,
Prof Jay's report found that at least 1,400 children were abused from 1997-2013

Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, was among a raft of South Yorkshire politicians who commented on the resignation.

She told BBC Radio Sheffield: "I'm delighted he's finally done it. I'm amazed, I thought he'd bedded himself in."

Shaun Wright profile

Shaun Wright, 46, was born in Royston, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. He now lives in Rawmarsh in Rotherham with his wife, Lisa, and two sons.

In 2000, he was elected as a councillor for Rawmarsh and in 2005 he was appointed as the cabinet member for children and young people's services.

In 2010, he stood down from the post and in 2011 was appointed Mayor of Rotherham.

The following year he was elected as the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, earning a salary of £85,000.

Shortly after he was elected as PCC, he stood down from his role as councillor for Rawmarsh.

Mr Wright is also a former vice chair of South Yorkshire Police Authority, a magistrate, a school governor and a trustee of the Coalfields Regeneration Trust.

Mr Clegg, Liberal Democrat MP for Sheffield Hallam, said: "People in South Yorkshire will welcome the news that the Police and Crime Commissioner has finally done the decent thing and stood aside.

"The important thing now is for the South Yorkshire Police to concentrate on going after the perpetrators of these terrible crimes so that the victims can finally see justice."

Mr Miliband, Labour MP for Doncaster North, tweeted: "It is right Shaun Wright has resigned. He was in a position of responsibility when the abuse scandal happened.

"Our focus now must be to listen to the victims and learn from the past to ensure this can never happen again."

Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police David Crompton, who has commissioned an independent investigation into the force's handling of the scandal, said Mr Wright's resignation provided an "opportunity for the force, and the county, to move forward".

Media caption,
Keith Vaz: "We were unanimous... that we wished for him to stand down"

Meanwhile, Mr Vaz said: "Shaun Wright has done the right thing."

Asked whether the resignation was a positive, as it would lead to a costly by-election, Mr Vaz said: "It was unsuitable for him to remain as the police and crime commissioner. The legislation is what's at fault."

Home Secretary Theresa May said: "I am pleased that Shaun Wright has heeded the calls from his local community for him to resign.

"It is right that where people failed in their duty they should take responsibility. The police and local council failed the victims of these awful crimes and failed the people of Rotherham.

"It is now for the people of South Yorkshire to elect someone who can provide local leadership, ensure the lessons of these dreadful cases are applied, and make sure the victims get the justice they deserve."

A by-election will be arranged to elect a new commissioner. In the meantime, an acting commissioner could be appointed by the panel as early as Thursday, the BBC understands.

Barnsley Council, which acts as the returning officer for the PCC said: "Upon receipt of a request from two electors in the South Yorkshire police area to the Authorised Officer, Diana Terris, an election will be held within 35 days. The date will be confirmed in due course."

Media caption,
South Yorkshire PCC Shaun Wright maintains he was unaware of the scale of abuse

A spokesperson for the office of South Yorkshire PCC said Mr Wright would not receive any severance payment.

Mr Vaz has also called for Joyce Thacker, the director of children's services in Rotherham, to resign.

He said: "I hope that [she] will now heed the committee's advice to step down or that Martin Kimber, Rotherham Council's former chief executive, will ask her to step aside."

Mr Kimber announced on 8 September that he would leave his post in December.

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