Rotherham child abuse: Police commissioner quits Labour
- 28 August 2014
- From the section England
Under-pressure Shaun Wright has resigned from the Labour Party but has insisted he will remain police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire.
Mr Wright has faced calls to step down after a report on child abuse in Rotherham, where he managed children's services between 2005 and 2010.
The report said at least 1,400 children were sexually exploited from 1997-2013, mainly by gangs of Pakistani heritage.
A Labour MP now wants a possible misconduct case against Mr Wright.
'Tip of iceberg'
The report also revealed there had been three previous inquiries, including one written in 2006 during Mr Wright's tenure in children's services, which provided "stark evidence" of the situation in Rotherham.
Meanwhile, the former director of children's services in Rotherham, Sonia Sharp, said she was briefed by politicians, senior managers and frontline staff about the issue of sexual exploitation of young people when she took up her post in 2005. She left Rotherham Council in 2008.
Dr Sharp said it was already known when she joined there were "many children in the community at risk" and staff feared "this was the tip of an iceberg".
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles attacked poor scrutiny in local government.
He said: "It is appalling that institutionalised political correctness led to the council turning a blind eye to heinous crimes.
"Britons across class, colour and creed will be appalled at the criminal acts that were committed and the failure of municipal governance.
"The biggest enemy to good community relations is failing to confront and challenge those who do wrong.
"This is a wake up call for local government - from the inadequate scrutiny by councillors of protection for the vulnerable to the conspiracy to cover up uncomfortable truths to avoid awkward questions, and the subsequent failure to sack those guilty of gross misconduct."
'Intend to remain'
In a statement, Mr Wright said he had "formally" tendered his resignation from the Labour Party.
But Mr Wright insisted he was the most appropriate person to hold the office of commissioner (PCC).
"I remain committed to, and intend to remain in, my role as an Independent Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire," he said.
"As a father, and a citizen of South Yorkshire, my thoughts are with the victims and their families and I reiterate my apology to them and take full responsibility for my part in the collective failures which took place at Rotherham Council during the time I was in office, and indeed to that end I resigned in 2010," he continued.
"I stand by my earlier comments that I've taken that experience to deliver a major transformation in the way South Yorkshire Police deals with horrific crimes such as child sexual exploitation, and much progress has been made since I was elected as commissioner in terms of supporting victims, taking preventive action, increasing awareness of the issue and bringing criminals to justice."
Mike Sergeant, local government correspondent
Rotherham isn't alone in facing the distressing problem of child sexual abuse. But the report exposed a deeply dysfunctional system here.
The council insists things have improved significantly in recent years. Many, though, are still shocked that efforts to confront exploitation fell woefully short.
Was there a particular problem specific to Rotherham? Did Labour's total dominance of this authority allow a complacent, rotten culture to develop? Was the political opposition so enfeebled that effective challenge to the leadership was striking by its absence?
As people here reflect on these political questions, it's worth thinking for a moment about the complex, corporate identity of modern councils. Social workers report to safeguarding managers, child protection co-ordinators, directors of services, and chief executives. All overseen by 63 elected councillors.
Such a complex web of relationships. So many different chains of command - making true accountability very hard to establish.
While Mr Wright's has refused to to stand down, Rotherham Council leader Roger Stone resigned with immediate effect on Tuesday.
Mr Stone, who had been the leader since 2003, said: "I believe it is only right that as leader I take responsibility for the historic failings described so clearly."
Shadow policing minister Jack Dromey had earlier told the BBC Mr Wright would be suspended from the Labour Party if he had not resigned by Thursday morning.
Now Labour backbencher John Mann MP is to write to Home Secretary Theresa May asking for the police to investigate whether a case of misconduct in public office could be brought against Mr Wright and others involved in the allegations in Rotherham.
Mr Mann said the inquiry should not be carried out by South Yorkshire Police, but by another force.
Mrs May has said Mr Wright should "heed calls" to resign, though she stressed it was not her job to hire and fire PCCs.
"I think he has real questions to answer," she said.
Rotherham MP Sarah Champion has also called for Mr Wright's resignation, along with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, shadow chancellor Ed Balls and shadow youth justice and victims minister Dan Jarvis.
The BBC has asked the Labour Party to comment on why Mr Wright was selected as its candidate for the PCC elections in 2012 but has not yet received a response.
Deputy Prime Minister and MP for Sheffield Hallam Nick Clegg has also called on Mr Wright to quit. Speaking on his weekly LBC Radio phone-in, he said his message to Mr Wright was: "Please do the decent thing and stand aside because you have to take responsibility."
Shaun Wright profile
Shaun Wright, 46, was born in Royston, near Barnsley in South Yorkshire. He lives in Rawmarsh, Rotherham, with his wife Lisa and two sons.
In 2000 he was elected as the 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 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.
Harry Harpham, chairman of South Yorkshire's police and crime panel, which scrutinises the work of the South Yorkshire PCC, told the BBC's Today programme Mr Wright's position had become "untenable" and he should go "at the earliest opportunity"
He said: "He can only be removed from office by resigning or unless he commits a criminal offence.
"We are not able to remove him, however, I will seek an urgent meeting with Shaun to let him know my position."
Suspending a police and crime commissioner
Under the legislation that created the roles in 2012, a PCC can only be suspended if:
(a) the commissioner has been charged in the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man with an offence, and
(b) the offence is one which carries a maximum term of imprisonment exceeding two years
Meanwhile, former Rotherham council chief executive Mike Cuff has also said he had to "take my share of responsibility for the council's failure to prevent the appalling abuse which has been so clearly described in this independent report". He added that he was "truly sorry".
Mr Cuff, who was the council's chief executive from 2004 to 2009, echoed Mr Wright's apology.
"It was on my watch that the organised abuse of young girls by a gang of Asian men came to light," he said.
"This led eventually to their conviction in 2010. I know that professional social workers and the police worked well together to support the abused girls and to secure the successful prosecution of their abusers."
This "close co-operation" between agencies "holds the key to the effective protection of vulnerable young people in the future", he added.
The report, commissioned by the council, was published on Tuesday and revealed the massive level of abuse in Rotherham, mainly by Pakistani heritage criminal gangs.
The inquiry team noted fears among council staff of being labelled "racist" if they focused on victims' descriptions of the majority of abusers as "Asian" men.
Key findings of the report
- Children as young as 11 were raped by multiple attackers, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten and intimidated.
- The "collective failures" of political, police and social care leadership were "blatant" over the first 12 years covered by the inquiry.
- Police were said to have given child sex exploitation no priority, regarding many child victims "with contempt" and failing to act on their abuse as a crime.
- The majority of those behind the abuse were described as Asian, while the majority of the reported victims were young white girls. The inquiry team noted fears among council staff of being labelled "racist" if they focused on victims' descriptions of the majority of abusers as "Asian" men.