Many young girls preyed on by grooming gangs are in care... Who will be their guardian angel? asks Colin Brazier
The exposure of the grooming gangs reads like a modern fable. And, as such, they tell a chastening story
On a couple of occasions in the 1990s I took a tape recorder to the West Yorkshire home of Ann Cryer. Ann, who’s now 82, was then the Labour MP for the Pennine mill town of Keighley.
She was also a voice in the wilderness. It didn’t matter that what she said was based on fact; on what her constituents were telling her was really happening on the ground.
Because Ann, 25 years ago, was saying something that was simply not ready to be heard. She was the first public figure to consistently draw attention to the actions of grooming gangs, predominantly made-up of men of Pakistani heritage.
By drawing attention to the plight of young women, Ann was denounced as a racist troublemaker. She was ostracized by other backbenchers. But she was made of stern stuff. She’d only recently survived a car crash which claimed the life of her late-husband, the left-wing Eurosceptic Bradford MP Bob Cryer.
To an astonishing and, frankly, depressing extent, that we know anything about the grooming gangs is down to a handful of courageous individuals. Ann Cryer is one.
The former Rochdale detective Maggie Oliver is another. And a reporter who joined the Yorkshire Post, just after I left the paper.
Andrew Norfolk wrote a series of articles for the Times newspaper which blew the lid off what was happening in towns like Rotherham.
All of them faced slurs and slander. All of them were accused of racism or Islamophobia. All of them, if anything, underestimated the scale of the problem.
This week we received another report into grooming.
This one, focused on Oldham, and included the extraordinary revelation that one grooming ringleader - Shabir Ahmed - had been given a council job advising people how to claim benefits – a job he got after his arrest for sexually abusing young girls.
Once again, it’s a feature of these reports that they focus on institutional failings. What social workers missed. What police officers didn’t do. How the council dropped the ball. But these crimes weren’t random acts of chance. The local authority hadn’t neglected to build adequate flood defences or have a plan to beat Covid. These crimes weren’t faceless. They were committed by perpetrators. Our fellow citizens, who’d hidden in plain sight, protected by political correctness.
The exposure of the grooming gangs reads like a modern fable. And, as such, they tell a chastening story. That something so malevolent should be overlooked by big taxpayer-funded organisations, and only revealed by a handful of individuals who were motivated by the workings of their own conscience.
It’s incredibly depressing. As is the fact that many of those who denounced Ann Cryer, Maggie Oliver and Andrew Norfolk remain in positions of authority. And for those people who put their trust in the big institutions to “learn lessons” - or whatever platitudes they want to wrap their failures in - consider this.
Many of the young girls preyed on by grooming gangs are in care. The number of children in care in England is on track to hit almost 100,000 by 2025 – an increase of more than a third within just a decade. Who, if anyone, will turn out to be their guardian angel?