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Thursday, 29 November 2018

Calls for review following severe criticism of council's approach to serial rapist

Written by Dave Higgens

A council facing severe criticism for inviting a serial rapist to take part in legal proceedings about the future of a child he fathered with one of his victims says it is seeking urgent clarity from the government.

Rotherham Council responded after campaigner and survivor of the town's child exploitation scandal Sammy Woodhouse (pictured) called for a law change following her revelation that the man who raped her as a teenager was given a chance to play a role in her son's life.

Arshid Hussain - the ringleader of a notorious child abuse gang who was jailed for 35 years in 2016 - was told by Rotherham Council he could seek visits from Miss Woodhouse's child as part of a legal process in the Family Court.

This revelation on Tuesday provoked a widespread outcry but the council has insisted it was only operating within the law.

On Wednesday, it issued a further statement saying it was urgently reviewing the case and seeking clarity on the procedural guidelines.

A spokesman said: "Today's further disclosures in relation to proceedings in the family court have understandably caused widespread concern and upset.

"As the public would expect, we have already begun to review the specifics of the case.

"As we have said previously we are not able to comment publicly on those specifics. However, we must be clear that at no stage has it been the intention of the council to put any child at risk, or to allow any convicted child sexual exploitation offender to have care of any child."

He said the council was in contact with the the Ministry of Justice about how Family Court procedure should be applied, adding: "We will be seeking further conversations with government officials about this as a matter of urgency."

The spokesman said: "It is imperative that clarity is realised as soon as possible, not just for Rotherham, but to ensure that other councils across the country who may face similar issues are able to act with certainty and no more survivors of abuse have to experience further trauma."

Earlier Rotherham's Labour MP Sarah Champion told BBC Two's Victoria Derbyshire show: "A minster, by the end of today, could sign off new guidance on this that makes it crystal clear that any rapist, any abuser, anyone that is an ongoing risk to a child, does not have the right to comment on their future."

She said: "It shouldn't be about interpretation, it should be black and white."

The MP said: "I've now got to the point where I wonder if, actually, the law does favour perpetrators rather than the victims because this sort of thing keeps on happening."

Miss Woodhouse told the same programme: "I'm just still in shock. I'm still asking myself how is this possible."

She said if the council thought it was working within the law, it should have challenged that law.

"I want us to be treated like human beings," she said.

Miss Woodhouse revealed the child involved is her son in a video on Twitter which has been viewed more than half a million times.

A Ministry of Justice statement said on Tuesday: "This is obviously a very distressing incident and the relevant departments and local authority will work urgently to understand and address the failings in this case.

"Local authorities can apply to courts to request permission not to notify parents without parental responsibility about care proceedings, and courts should consider the potential harm to the child and mother when making this decision."

MINISTERS COULD STOP RAPISTS TAKING PART IN DECISIONS OVER CHILDREN - MP

Ministers could act "today" to stop rapists and abusers having a say on the future of children they are at risk of harming, according to Rotherham MP Sarah Champion.

Ms Champion was speaking after campaigner and survivor of the Rotherham child exploitation scandal Sammy Woodhouse called for a law change amid claims that the man who raped her as a teenager was invited by a council to play a role in her son's life.

Miss Woodhouse spoke out after The Times revealed that Arshid Hussain - the ringleader of a notorious child abuse gang who was jailed for 35 years in 2016 - was told by Rotherham Council that he could seek visits from Miss Woodhouse's child as part of a legal process.

Labour MP Ms Champion told BBC Two's Victoria Derbyshire show: "A minster, by the end of today, could sign off new guidance on this that makes it crystal clear that any rapist, any abuser, anyone that is an ongoing risk to a child, does not have the right to comment on their future.

"They could do that today but they don't.

"They sort of shove it out to the councils to make their interpretations and then just sit back and go, 'oh well, it's up to the councils, they interpreted it wrong'.

"It shouldn't be about interpretation, it should be black and white."

The MP said her reaction to Miss Woodhouse's story was "just utter disgust, incredulity and, for me, it's just another example of how victims are re-traumatised again and again by the system that's actually designed to protect them".

"And I've now got to the point where I wonder if, actually, the law does favour perpetrators rather than the victims because this sort of thing keeps on happening."

Miss Woodhouse told the same programme: "I'm just still in shock. I'm still asking myself how is this possible."

She that if the council thought it was working within the law, it should have challenged that law.

"I want us to be treated like human beings," she said.

The newspaper said Hussain, the boy's father, was listed as a respondent in a family court case involving the child and was therefore contacted by the local authority, which promised to keep him informed of future proceedings.

It said that, during a hearing last year, the boy's mother was told the convicted sex offender would be allowed to attend court and make legal representations.

The story had initially been anonymised, but Miss Woodhouse revealed that the child involved is her son in a video on Twitter which has been viewed almost half a million times.

Miss Woodhouse was one of the key witnesses in South Yorkshire Police's Operation Clover investigation which led to a number of Rotherham men being given lengthy jail sentences in 2016, including Hussain and his three brothers.

She subsequently waived her anonymity and now speaks widely about child sexual exploitation and has written a book about her experiences.

A Rotherham Council spokesman said on Tuesday night that it could not disclose information relating to proceedings in the family court, adding: "Like all councils we must comply with legal requirements, including practice directions, and that would include giving notice of proceedings to parents with or without formal parental responsibility.

"Often and understandably, cases before the family court are emotive and arouse strong feelings amongst those affected.

"We do understand that the legal requirements can cause upset to those involved and so we welcome a debate around this issue, which applies across England and Wales."

A Ministry of Justice statement said: "This is obviously a very distressing incident and the relevant departments and local authority will work urgently to understand and address the failings in this case.

"Local authorities can apply to courts to request permission not to notify parents without parental responsibility about care proceedings, and courts should consider the potential harm to the child and mother when making this decision."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Dave Higgens / PA Wire.