Rotherham child abuse scandal prompts warning to 'leak-chasing' councils

The Times journalist who helped uncover the Rotherham child abuse scandal has attacked Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council's handling of previous inquiries and warned its successors not to be "tempted to chase leaks rather than act on their failings".

The Times: Played a role in exposing child abuse in Rotherham
The Times: Played a role in exposing child abuse in Rotherham

Andrew Norfolk made the comments in a column for The Times on the day of the publication of a report commissioned by the council, which he welcomed for confronting what he called "the sins of the past".

The report's revelations of the extent of the abuse, perpetrated mostly by Asian men on around 1,400 girls between 1997 and 2013, follow a series of battles The Times claimed to have had with the council. 

Norfolk said the council's "belated commitment to openness" stood "in marked contrast to its determined efforts in past years to hide, beneath a very large stone, evidence of a crime pattern that was allowed to plant deep and poisonous roots".

He then went on to state: "Future councils, tempted to chase leaks rather than act on their failings, must take heed."

The latest report followed three previous inquiries into the matter.

It has led to the resignation of council leader Roger Stone, though South Yorkshire's police commissioner Shaun Wright has vowed to remain in his role despite calls for him to go.

The report alluded to fears within local authorities about accusations of racism and "reputational risk to the borough if the issue was fully brought into the public domain" as among the many potential factors allowing abuse to continue.

In his column, Norfolk claimed that the council had repeatedly blocked attempts to expose cases of the abuse.

This included opposing efforts to publish a serious case review into the 2010 murder of 17-year-old Laura Wilson and then redacting the copy after the Government ordered that the review was published. 

Norfolk also stated that in 2012, upon discovering that The Times was set to publish care workers' knowledge of Wilson's involvement with Asian men, the council sought to bar publication through a high court injunction before launching an investigation into the source of another leak just three months later. 

"Much was said by senior council representatives about the inquiry report’s acknowledgement of a significant improvement in the way the sexual exploitation of girls had been addressed in Rotherham since 2011," he wrote.

"As recently as 2012, those holding the reins of power at the council were continuing the decade-long exercise in refusing fully to acknowledge and learn from disastrous past mistakes."

Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council declined to comment. 

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