Birmingham City Council has made the astonishing decision to recruit the former director of safeguarding children and families from scandal hit Rotherham council, where he was linked to the closure of a group rescuing sexually exploited young girls.
Howard Woolfenden works for the authority as an £85,000 a year assistant director and leads the council’s work to protect young people from grooming gangs, the Birmingham Mail exposed.
His job, many times the average salary of Birmingham council tax payers, is despite his inclusion in the Rotherham Council management team which were heavily criticised for failing victims of CSE and for closing down the welfare group Risky Business, described as ‘the only lifeline’ for abused girls in the town.
The outreach group offered help and advice to the victims of the mass grooming and abuse which was going on in Rotherham, mainly by Asian Pakistani men, and collected details of the abusers on a confidential database.
Despite this pioneering work, the council run group was shut down even though, as the Casey Report noted, councillors and staff had been made aware of the ongoing abuse.
Indeed, Mr Woolfenden himself was interviewed by Louise Casey for her investigation, which found that Rotherham Council was ‘not fit for purpose’ and still ‘in denial’ about the 1,400 girls abused, a large number in the care system.
Despite the praise of the group, it was suddenly shut down by Rotherham Council and Mr Woolfenden oversaw the creation of Risky Business’ replacement by an in house council team. He resigned in August 2012 to take up an appointment with Oxfordshire County Council, an appointment which was cancelled before he started, without explanation.
Ms Casey’s report highlighted the work of the group and said staff had been ignored and even harassed for highlighting ‘uncomfortable truths’ about abusers in Rotherham – something even shamed ex MP Dennis MacShane admitted was based on their ethnicity.
“Child abuse and exploitation happens all over the country, but Rotherham is different in that it (the council) was repeatedly told by its own youth service what was happening and it chose, not only to not act, but to close that service down. This is important because it points to how it has dealt with uncomfortable truths put before it,” she said.
The former manager of the outreach group, Jayne Senior, said Mr Woolfenden was “under no illusion about the extent of the CSE problem in Rotherham when he was there.”
“He spent a lot of time going through our database about the girls and the abusers,” she said. “Risky Business was a lifeline to the girls and on some occasions our staffs’ intervention, by going that extra mile, saved lives.
“We removed girls from situations, protected them and would go out late at night to deal with hospital visits when the girls had been hurt.”
Yet in 2011, only a day after Head of Children’s Services Joyce Thacker – Mr Woolfenden’s boss – told the council that funding had been secured for the group for the next two year, they were told it was being closed down.
Controversially, the database with details of the offenders, which showed they were almost all Pakistani men, was taken into the possession of Council officials. The database has subsequently gone missing from the authority.
UKIP PPC for Rotherham, Jane Collins, condemned the decision by Birmingham to employ Mr Woolfenden and said the councillor needed to look into the Casey report and investigate his actions whilst he worked at the council.
Ms Collins, who is being sued by three Labour MPs for questioning their knowledge of the scandal – something they deny even though one had a daughter on the council who was briefed at the time – said it was an insult to both the abused girls in Rotherham and the children in Birmingham.
Her colleague and fellow MEP who represents the West Midlands, Jill Seymour, told Breitbart London, “Those who held senior positions during the Rotherham scandal should never be allowed to work in child protection services again,” adding, “I call on Birmingham City Council to reconsider this appointment.”
A member of the Rotherham Local Safeguarding Children’s Board recalled meetings where, rather than tackle the huge CSE abuse ongoing in Rotherham, Mr Woolfenden appeared to be more concerned about the ethnicity of the offenders. They told the Mail: “I just couldn’t understand this as we were talking about criminals and terrible crimes that had been committed rather than saving face.”
Mr Woolfenden confirmed that he had played an instrumental role in closing down Risky Business but when asked to comment further, he said “I don’t think it’s quite the right time to talk about this at the moment. I need to speak to my press team.
In response to repeated requests for a paperwork trail on the closure of the group, a spokeswoman for Rotherham Council said that no documentation or recorded evidence on who took the decision to close the group could be found. The decision should have gone to the council’s Cabinet, been discussed and the outcome minuted, but the authority can find no record of that.
Mr Woolfenden was also linked to the decision to take foster children away from two registered parents because they supported UKIP. As the director with responsibility for the foster care service, he was questioned on whether he had a decision in taking the eastern European children away from the experienced foster parents despite reports they were settling in very well.
A woman answering the door of his house in Earlswood, near Solihull, said Mr Woolfenden had left the council, having handed in his resignation on August 31. When asked whether he made the decision over the foster children, she replied: ‘No comment.’