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Tuesday 13th November 2012 | 18:21
Thank you Mr Deputy Speaker and can I thank the Honourable member for Oxford West and my Honourable Friend for Stockport for securing what is an exceptionally important debate. I want to talk about cover ups in relation to child sex exploitation. I particularly want to draw on two examples from Rochdale. First let me turn my attention to what I believe was an attempted cover up by Rochdale Council and indeed Rochdale Council’s leader. I don’t make these points lightly, and I certainly don’t make them for party political reasons. Indeed it’s a Labour council, and it’s a Labour councillor who is the leader of the council. As the Rochdale grooming case unfolded in the courts in April, I first sensed a desire to hide the failure that had occurred when I spoke to Cheryl Eastwood, the then director of children’s services.
She explained that it was a new phenomenon, that they haven’t received guidance from central Government. In other words she was saying that no one was aware of on-street grooming and she was suggesting that they needed guidance from Central Government to know that raping a young girl was illegal.
It didn’t finish there. Soon after the trial Steve Garner, Targeted Services Director for Children, told the Daily Telegraph that his department had not let any of these young girls down. If there was any blame for ignoring these girls’ cries for help, he implied, then this certainly didn’t rest in the department in which he had worked for 11 years.
Helpfully, the Home Affairs Select Committee immediately started examining issues around child sex abuse and in June called the leader of the council and the chief executive to explain themselves. It’s there that the council leader from Rochdale attempted to suggest that it was a failure of information-sharing that had led to the problems in Rochdale.
Soon after this, with evidence mounting that Rochdale council social services department had said these girls had “made life choices” and were “prostitutes”, the Council Leader then decided to change tack.
Indeed, he jumped on the back of an excellent report by the All Party Parliamentary Group for looked-after children in care leavers and started suggesting that the problems occurred in Rochdale were actually - the problems should be put at the foot at private care homes. He said they do not protect vulnerable children, they do not rehabilitate them back into the community, they do the opposite. They also said, Rochdale Borough at the moment in the current climate is the wrong place to send these children.
It was as though Rochdale’s council leader was talking up the failings of children’s homes to avoid having to explain the failings that of his own social services department. The public began to believe that private children’s homes were part of the problem. The reality is that that was not the case and only one of the victims had actually stayed in a children’s home. This became apparent months later when the local safeguarding board published its review.
First, it hardly mentioned children’s homes, because they hadn’t been ‘part of the problem’. And secondly, it pointed out that Pennine Care’s NHS Crisis Intervention Team continually tried to share information with the local authority, with the social services department. So the reality is that people were trying to share information, contrary to what the council leader said, with his own local authority, quite clearly trying to make the point that these girls should be taken into social services care but that was ignored by the local authority.
To bring this sorry state – this sorry tale of an attempted cover-up up to date, only last week, the Home Affairs Select Committee questioned the former Chief Executive of Rochdale Council – Roger Ellis. Throughout the session he denied having known about grooming in Rochdale until this case came to court.
He’d actually been the Chief Executive for 12 years; he’d sat on the local safeguarding board. Indeed, he’d been the chief executive of the council when he set up the child sex exploitation working group in 2007, which had identified 50 girls who were at risk, or who were experiencing sexual abuse.
Of course, cover-ups happen when reputations need to be protected at all costs and in that respect attempts to suppress the truth are not new in Rochdale. The culture of cover up stretches back much further than the recent grooming scandal and extends right to the heart of our political establishment. If we're to make sure victims of child abuse are sufficiently empowered to claw back some of the dignity that's been taken from them then we need to be open about a widespread abuse of power in our borough. That's why it is necessary to turn to Sir Cyril Smith.
Cyril Smith was a political giant in Rochdale and one of the most recognisable politicians in the country. But his career was continually dogged by allegations that he had abused boys. These allegations appeared in some of his obituaries. We know, too, that they appeared in police reports. Though Lancashire Police have said recently that they can’t find those reports though they do accept that they carried out an investigation and it is suggested a report was pushed to the Director of Public Prosecutions back in 1969.
Today, more victims have come forward and the journalist Paul Waugh, who hails from Rochdale, is reporting fresh allegations against Cyril Smith from young boys who were assaulted by Smith at Cambridge House Boys Hostel. These allegations must be properly investigated and the seriousness of the victims’ complaints acknowledged and the seriousness of the complaints must be acknowledged.
I have been passed statements that were issued to the police in the 1970s regarding Smith’s activities at Cambridge House hostel and they make grim reading.
For some unknown reason Cyril Smith had a kind of disciplinarian role at the hostel and was given free rein to administer punishments to boys. Here is one example of how he dealt with bad behaviour. “He told me to take my trousers and pants down and bend over his knee,” said one of the victims. “He hit me many times with his bare hands and I pleaded with him to stop because he was hurting me. Afterwards he came to my bedroom and wiped my buttocks with a wet sponge.”
Another of Cyril Smith’s victims, Barry Fitton, has spoken out today as well on the PoliticsHome blog in the article that Paul Waugh has published.
Another victim has also come out and spoken about the abuse he received from Cyril Smith today, for the first time he… spoke about that abuse. And this morning I was approached by another victim who does not wish to be named because he said he is ashamed of what happened to him and because his wife is not aware of the abuse that he received from Smith. This victim is also angry and upset about how Cyril Smith treated him.
I’ve yet to find anywhere the victims who spoke about this abuse. Young boys who were humiliated, terrified and reduced to quivering wrecks by a 29 stone bully imposing himself on them. What happened to them? How can they ever forget what happened to them. How can they ever forget what happened to them? Why was this allowed to happen? We need to be sure that this type of investigation takes place now, that those victims get a chance to have their voices heard.
I want to conclude by saying that confronting child abuse is a hard thing to do and we must never allow reputations or positions of power to deter us from doing what is right. As new victims of abuse in Rochdale come forward to speak of what happened in Cambridge House, Greater Manchester Police should consider re-opening this case and I would call on the minister to do all in his powers to bring police files from previous investigations into Smith to light. For far too long, victims have not been taken seriously in our time, shocking allegations have not been challenged and people in roles of trust, power and authority have abused their position. Let us hope Britain is now reaching a tipping point where victims will be taken seriously and given a voice. It’s only by listening to victims that we can start to fully understand the crime of abuse in our communities. And only then can we ensure that mistakes of the past are not repeated again.