Labour has finally acted against party members responsible for the widespread cover-up of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham by suspending four members pending an investigation. The suspended councillors are former leader Roger Stone (pictured), ex-deputy leader Jahangir Akhtar, as well as Cllr Gwendoline Ann Russell, who chairs the looked-after children panel, and former mayor Shaukat Ali.
This is the first decisive move the party has made since it threatened Police Commissioner Shaun Wright with suspension unless he agreed to stand down. In the end he refused to step down and instead resigned his party membership, thus making Labour seemingly unable to act. This led to a petition calling for him to stand-down that has attracted 13,000 signatures. He is also being called to Parliament to account for his actions.
News that Labour have suspended the councillors came on the heels of the BBC Panorama investigation, which was a damning indictment of the behaviour of police and social services for years. In a number of cases, child protection professionals were directly told about abuse but failed to act. One witness claimed they made clear they would not step in because the perpetrators were Pakistani Muslims, and arresting them might damage community relations.
A researcher who was working in Rotherham at the time on a Home Office project told the BBC: “I was subjected to most intense personal hostility. There were threats made from a range of sources. I’ve never seen back-covering like it and I still feel extremely angry about that.” She claimed that child protection staff in the local police and social services conspired to attempt to get her sacked for highlighting the problems.
In the light of the allegations the Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police, David Crompton announced an independent investigation into his force’s handling of the case. This includes a number of occasions when victims claim police caught paedophiles abusing them but actually arrested the victims rather than the perpetrators.
Crompton confirmed he was calling in another police force to conduct the investigation into South Yorkshire Police. It will be the latest in a whole series of investigations into the discredited force. They were already in serious trouble for deliberately blaming the victims of the 1989 Hilsborough Stadium tragedy, when 96 Liverpool Football Club fans were crushed after police opened the wrong gates.
The four suspended councillors were all in senior positions at the time of the cover-up. Their continued presence in Labour was leading the party to lose support in Yorkshire, once regarded as one of its strongest areas. This is likely to be made worse when UKIP hold their conference in nearby Doncaster later this month.