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Friday, 11 August 2017

Fear of being called racist 'stopping people from raising child abuse concerns'

Written by Richard Wheeler

People are not raising potential cases of child abuse as they fear being labelled racist, according to a Labour frontbencher.

Shadow women and equalities secretary Sarah Champion said there is a need to acknowledge the "majority of perpetrators have been British-Pakistani" in the English towns and cities where grooming gangs have targeted girls.

The Labour MP for Rotherham, who called for more Government research, added that the lack of action is because people are "more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse".

Former Crown Prosecution Service chief Lord Macdonald of River Glaven also admitted cases of Asian grooming gangs targeting white girls were not previously examined as "rigorously as they might have been".

He believes this is no longer the case, with recent successful prosecutions showing the "so-called taboos" no longer exist, and called on all communities to recognise it is a "profoundly racist crime".

The remarks emerged after 18 people were convicted of or admitted offences in a series of trials related to child sexual exploitation in Newcastle.

Newcastle joins a growing list of English towns and cities where sex rings have been exposed, including in Rotherham and Rochdale.

Ms Champion (pictured)  told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We've got now hundreds of men, Pakistani men, who have been convicted of this crime - why are we not commissioning research to see what's going on and how we need to change what's going on so it never happens again?"

The MP said every time she speaks about the issue, the level of Islamophobia increases, adding: "The far right will attack me for not doing enough, the floppy left will have a go at me for being a racist.

"But this isn't racist, this is child protection and we need to be grown-up about this and deal with it."

Ms Champion said the prosecutions and convictions of grooming gangs are "predominantly Pakistani men", adding: "If it was people from a particular town that was doing this crime across the country, if it was people from - I don't know - a motorbike gang doing this, we'd recognise that as an indicator and we'd deal with it - but we're just not dealing with it."

Asked why, Ms Champion said: "I genuinely think it's because people are more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse.

"I know in Rotherham I've met frontline social workers who, when - we're talking 10 years ago - they were trying to report this crime, were sent on race relations courses, they were told they were going to have disciplinary action if they didn't remove the fact they were identifying the person as a Pakistani male.

"This is still going on in our towns now, I know it's still going on but we're still not addressing it."

Lord Macdonald, an ex-director of public prosecutions, told the same programme: "I think there has been in the past a reluctance to investigate a category of crime that people might believe attaches to a particular community in circumstances where men may be targeting young women..."

Presenter John Humphrys, intervening, said: "In other words, we're talking about - by and large - Muslim men who have been targeting white girls?"

Lord Macdonald said: "Yes, exactly."

Mr Humphrys added: "In other words, we've allowed political correctness - if that's the right expression - to interfere with the course of justice?"

Lord Macdonald replied: "I think that's no longer the case and I think the fact that these sorts of cases are now being brought successfully demonstrates that those sorts of so-called taboos no longer exist - but I don't think any of us can pretend that in the past these cases have been examined as rigorously as they might have been."

He added he hopes this has changed, noting: "There's obviously a serious issue about the way young women are regarded in these cases - regarded as trash, regarded as available for sex, and this seems to be a recurring theme - and I don't think anyone thinks now we've got it.

"This is a major problem, it's a major problem in particular communities and it has to be confronted not just by law enforcement but by communities themselves."

Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman said men from a wide range of communities have been arrested by his force and convicted, including white men, Turkish men and Pakistani men.

He told the BBC: "It has to be driven out in terms of its social acceptability."

Maggie Oliver, lead detective in the Rochdale child grooming scandal, told the BBC she had similar concerns.

She told Radio 4's PM programme there was an "epidemic" of this kind of abuse because authorities had chosen to turn a blind eye to it due to the ethnicity of perpetrators and victims.

This had led some offenders to believe that they were "beyond the law", Ms Oliver said.

"I can give you numerous examples of victims who were abused as children who have been arrested and charged with racially aggravated public order offences for shouting out names that had a racial element to their abusers," she said.

"There's been no reticence in charging those children with a racially aggravated public order offences - why is there not parity in dealing with the offenders?"

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