Rochdale child sex abuse still happening: Health worker

Sara Rowbotham
Image caption Sara Rowbotham said victims of child sex exploitation had been treated appallingly

Girls are still being abused in Rochdale despite nine men being convicted of running a child sex ring in the town, a health worker has said.

Sara Rowbotham, from the Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team, is tasked with identifying young people vulnerable to child sex exploitation.

She told an inquiry that agencies had treated the victims "appallingly".

The team co-ordinator also told the Home Affairs Select Committee the abuse had started in 2004 and not 2007.

'Still sexual exploitation'

Rochdale Crisis Intervention Team identifies young people thought to be some of society's most vulnerable and helps with their sexual health.

"In Rochdale, there is still sexual exploitation," Ms Rowbotham said.

"We are attending strategy meetings where these concerns have been raised."

Children involved are about 14 or 15 years old, she said.

Speaking of the victims of the convicted men, Ms Rowbotham told the committee: "These vulnerable people did not have a voice and they were treated appallingly by protective agencies."

She said she had made 103 referrals of "incredibly vulnerable" cases to police and social services between 2005 and 2011 and there had been only nine convictions in May that she was aware of.

Image caption Ex-chief executive Roger Ellis said information had been withheld from him by staff

The ex-chief executive of Rochdale Council, which was criticised for staff "deficiencies" in a report by the town's safeguarding children board, told the hearing he knew nothing of the abuse until the men's arrests in 2010.

Roger Ellis told the committee as chief executive he had "felt a deep sense of responsibility" and was "embarrassed at the authority's failings", but not personally.

The council was criticised in the report for failing to help the victims,

"I don't feel any personal culpability based on the information that was available to me," he said.

Mr Ellis, who was chief executive for 12 years, said "clearly information was withheld" from him by staff.

"I did not know about these particular issues. I can't explain why I wasn't made aware [of] what was happening."

Mr Ellis left the authority in 2010. When asked if he received a pay-off, he told the committee he could not reveal the amount due to "confidentiality".

He agreed there should be a judicial inquiry into what had happened in Rochdale to find out "who had failed" the children.

Committee chairman, Labour's Keith Vaz, said he had recalled Mr Ellis and current chief executive Jim Taylor to get answers into why Rochdale Council failed victims of the child sex ring.

'Lifestyle choice'

He told Mr Ellis it was "very disturbing" he did not know about the child abuse.

The hearing followed the findings of the review published by the safeguarding children board on 27 September.

Head of children's social services at the time, Steve Garner, cannot attend the hearing due to ill health.

Rochdale Council said in a statement he would co-operate with the inquiry by providing information and answering questions from the committee at a later date if required.

Mr Garner resigned from the council in October shortly after the publication of the report.

As well as finding front-line staff "deficiencies", the report also said council workers described the girls as making a "lifestyle choice".

Rochdale's safeguarding children board reviewed the work of local agencies, including the council, police and the Crown Prosecution Service, between 2007 and 2012, in safeguarding children at risk of sexual exploitation.

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