In this BBC News interview, Andrew Norfolk, the Times journalist whose investigations helped expose the abuse and rape of children in Rotherham, describes his work and the serious failing of all the authorities involved.
His investigation first started when he covered concerns raised by Keighley MP Ann Cryer in 2003, who was the first mainstream figure to speak out about gangs of Asian men meeting young girls outside secondary schools, but he didn’t follow it up. In 2010 he realised that no one seemed to have made the connection and became “increasingly uneasy” that he had not followed up on Cryer’s claims.
His then editor at the Times, James Harding, asked him to work full time on the story. He said; “We are going to carry on working on this story and running stories about this until we are satisfied that every single body in the country that has a responsibility for child protection has systems in place that we feel are adequate to, A, protect children, and, B, to detect and prosecute offenders.”
As he describes in the video (and is documented in the Times article below), it was not an easy task. The Rotherham council attempted a High Court injunction against the Times, and also involved the police to try find the source of their documents.
Nearly four years later, he feels his work is vindicated.
On Tuesday, the leader of Rotherham council resigned and offered “heartfelt apologies” to girls as young as 11 in the South Yorkshire town who were routinely gang-raped, abducted and trafficked to other cities.
However, the story is not yet over.
As he says, no official who worked in a senior managerial position for the local authority during that period has been subjected to any disciplinary action.
More of Andrew Norfolk’s Times features.
Council hid evidence for a decade
It came far, far too late for many hundreds of damaged girls, but with its decision to commission the independent inquiry that led to yesterday’s damning report, the leadership of Rotherham council has finally begun to confront the sins of its past.
The local authority’s belated commitment to openness stands 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.
The inquiry report gives details of research findings, submitted to the council and South Yorkshire police in 2002, 2003 and 2006, that were “disbelieved, suppressed or ignored”. Much was said yesterday 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. As recently as 2012, however, 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.
When a serious case review was ordered into the 2010 murder of Laura Wilson, 17, the council’s safeguarding children board tried to withhold it from publication. The board, ordered to publish by the government, produced a report with heavy redactions that concealed information about the ethnicity of adults who had been suspected of grooming her for sex from the age of 11. It also hid details of care professionals’ involvement with the girl from the age of 11 to 15.
When the council discovered that The Times intended to publish information about care workers’ knowledge of Laura’s involvement with “Asian men”, it sought at great expense a High Court injunction barring publication.
It dropped the legal action in June 2012 after Michael Gove, the education secretary at the time, accused the board of withholding “relevant and important material”. Three months later, this newspaper revealed the extent of Rotherham’s failure to protect exploited children. The council’s response was to ask the police, and then a firm of solicitors, to investigate the leak of restricted information.
Last August, The Times published information about a 15-year-old Rotherham girl, in the care of social services, who was allowed extensive daily contact with a violent offender suspected of grooming more than a dozen young teenagers for sex.
A few days after the article’s publication, the council ordered an independent inquiry. It should not have taken more than a decade. More girls suffered as the council obfuscated. Future councils, tempted to chase leaks rather than act on their failings, must take heed.