Authorities in Rotherham are defending their handling of child sexual exploitation in the town.
It’s after a survivor of child sexual exploitation – “Elizabeth” – has told GB News she wants Rotherham Council leader Chris Read and South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings to quit.
It also comes after a report by opposition Conservatives claimed there were “multiple examples of active grooming and CSE” in Rotherham – that report is being debated at Rotherham Council this afternoon.
GB News spoke to South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Dr Alan Billings - before “Elizabeth” called for him to stand down – and he began by telling our Yorkshire and Humber reporter Kevin Larkin what he made of that report from opposition Conservative councillors in Rotherham.
“It's an extraordinary document. It's very vague. It's full of untruths.
“They don't seem to know anything about what's going on in in their own borough in Rotherham.
“I'm just amazed that anyone should be taking this seriously. It's a serious matter, but this is not a serious document.”
Dr Alan Billings added – on the subject of CSE survivor Elizabeth’s call for him to stand down –
“When I first became Police and Crime Commissioner, following the Jay Report, I set up a panel of Victims, Survivors and their Families. Elizabeth was a member of the panel. They helped me to understand how grooming happened. They taught me that the victims of CSE were not just the women and girls – the primary victims – but also family members, especially younger sisters who were terrified at what was going on.
“At first the panel members did not want to meet the police, but in time we introduced them to police officers and their experience and insights influenced the training of officers in South Yorkshire.
“Considerable progress has been made in keeping children safe as a result.
“There are now teams of dedicated and passionate police officers and staff who work alongside social workers and others. Many of the victims and general public will be unaware of this work. To say that work isn’t happening is not fair to those teams who are working tirelessly to ensure victims receive the support that they need, that crimes are investigated and perpetrators are brought to justice.
“Their work is recognised across the country as first-class, and that matters because there will always be people who try to prey on vulnerable children and they must be safeguarded.
“The National Crime Agency is investigating the historical cases of CSE. This work is ongoing and has seen a number of cases progress through the courts where perpetrators have received lengthy jail sentences. I also provide considerable funding to ensure that the victims in these cases have the support that they need to help them on their journey through the criminal justice system and beyond, as they rebuild their lives.
“I invite Elizabeth to come with me to meet these officers and learn for herself what is being done and to ask any questions she likes to reassure herself that the service offered here is keeping children safe.”
South Yorkshire Police said in a statement:
“We are currently working through the detail of the report as we have not had early sight of it or been involved in informing its authors.
“We want to be absolutely clear that CSE remains a problem in Rotherham as it does right across the country. There will always be people intent on harming children for their own gains. We are working tirelessly to bring those people to justice but even more importantly to prevent harm occurring in the first place.
“This has included the creation of dedicated CSE teams working in partnership with Rotherham Council to ensure information is shared in quick time. We also established the Operation MakeSafe which sees dedicated officers provide training to staff in key locations who may have opportunity to spot the signs of CSE. This has included hotels receptionists, taxi drivers and take away staff amongst many, many others.
“We have a monthly working group which details the intelligence and investigations we are working on including the reports received by the Conservative Group. We have previously invited the group to attend this meeting and will extend this offer again in the hope that we can better inform them of the extensive work underway.”
We have also made multiple requests for the leader of Rotherham Council – Labour’s Chris Read who CSE survivor “Elizabeth” has said should resign – to come on to discuss this important matter but he has said he will decline any GB News interview requests. In a statement he said:
“Since 2015, tackling child sexual exploitation and improving services for the most vulnerable children and families more broadly has been our most important task.
“We have been lucky enough to have the support of numerous national experts supporting this work, including our government-appointed Commissioners with whom we worked on a cross-party basis, as well as dedicated child safeguarding professionals.
“We have committed significant additional investment to this task and the improvements in our children’s social care have been repeatedly independently verified.
“We are never complacent, we do take the allegations made by Conservative councillors last week seriously and continue to invite them to provide any further information they may have so that the response to their reports can be independently checked and any necessary changes made.
“I have the deepest of respect for Elizabeth and others who were badly let down by services in the past and she is of course entitled to her political views.”
In response to the figures revealed by GB News, Rotherham Council said:
"The 1,665 number previously reported relates to the total number of risk assessments carried out by Rotherham Council, to consider whether there is a risk of child sexual exploitation at that moment in time. In many cases, individual children are subject to more than one risk assessment over time, so this number will always be higher than the number of children it relates to.
"The number of new children who have been supported by social care or early help services for each year since 2014, where any risk at all of child sexual exploitation is recorded within their file for each year, is set out below. It’s essential to stress this does not mean that every child has been a victim of CSE, but that they have been identified as being potentially vulnerable to it. The Council works with the children identified to reduce the risk to them."