Child sex abuse rings still running rife in Rochdale due to social service failings, parliamentary select committee hears

By Jeremy Culley

Targeted child abuse and exploitation in Rochdale has not stopped, according to a health worker whose team helped support victims of an Asian sex ring.

The co-ordinator of Rochdale’s Crisis Intervention Team, Sara Rowbotham, also told a Commons Home Affairs Select Committee that a culture in the social services had allowed the abuse to continue.

Nine men were sentenced to a total of 96 years in jail as part Greater Manchester Police’s largest ever investigation into child sexual exploitation earlier this year.

The inquiry focused on allegations that five teenage girls in Rochdale were sexually exploited over a period of time by a group of 11 men.

After being asked to explain the mistreatment of the victims, Ms Rowbotham said: “It was unfortunate it was about attitudes towards teenagers.

“It was about disrespect. They did not have a voice. They were overlooked. They were discriminated against. They were treated appallingly by social services.”

She added that no one in the social services would ‘dare’ behave like this in Rochdale again.

Ms Rowbotham appeared in Westminster yesterday just before Rochdale Council Chief Executive Jim Taylor and his predecessor Roger Ellis.

Mr Ellis said he had never known that young girls in the town were suffering systemic sexual abuse, claiming information had clearly been withheld from him.

The trio were appearing before the committee in light of a damning report into Rochdale’s child sex ring scandal – for which nine men were jailed earlier this year.

It showed social services failed to act on information about abuse because they regarded the victims old enough to make their own decisions.

On the existing sexual exploitation in the town, Ms Rowbotham said: “Children are still being exploited, some as young as 13 and 15 years old.

“Lots of different young people believe they are in a relationship with their groomer.

“The pattern and sustained nature of the abuse in certain instances is very difficult to break.”

Mr Ellis said he was ‘shocked and sickened’ by the reports but insisted he knew nothing about child abuse allegations in his first ten years as chief executive.

“Of course I should have been told about the cases if children’s services had known about it,” he said.

On his failure to call for an inquiry, Mr Ellis said: “My fury arose only after I left. While I was in the organisation, I had no knowledge.

“I didn’t know that there was something that I didn’t know about.”

Asked if he felt any personal culpability for the story, Mr Ellis said: “I feel a deep sense of regret and embarrassment at what occurred but I don’t feel any personal guilt.”

He also claimed that he left his post earlier this year because the authority were seeking volunteers for redundancy during the financial crisis, not because of the failure to protect abuse victims.

Ms Rowbotham attempted to offer a partial defence for the collective failures, saying abused children rarely present a clear-cut case, so entrenched they are in webs of exploitation.

Her Crisis Intervention Team has been halved since the stories came to light, but she simply explained it as the authority addressing issues in a different way.

Steve Garner, who resigned as the council’s head of children’s services after the report’s publication, was too ill to give evidence.

Current council Chief Executive Mr Taylor confirmed that, contrary to reports, neither Mr Garner or Cheryl Eastwood – who also left her post – have received redundancy packages.

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