Rochdale council accused of trying to dampen impact of sex grooming reports
Local MP Simon Danczuk says timing of publication just before Christmas is part of a cynical damage-limitation exercise.
The local authority at the centre of Britain’s biggest child sex grooming scandal has been accused of trying to dampen the impact of a series of damning reports by releasing them in the runup to Christmas.
Rochdale borough council announced in May 2012 that it would hold an independent inquiry into what it called its “Hillsborough moment”.
But serious case reviews into the abuse of seven young girls have taken 19 months to materialise.
The details were finally disclosed officially on the final Friday before Christmas – a date the local MP claims has been chosen as part of a cynical damage-limitation exercise.
A council official claimed it was “pure coincidence” that the reports were being published by Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board only days before Christmas.
“It’s not by design,” said Bruce Willan. “That’s the way it’s happened.”
He added: “The board wanted to get them out before the year was out. It’s not because it’s Christmas. They would prefer it not to be”.
But Rochdale’s Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, said: “The council has a history of not wanting reviews into child sexual exploitation made public, and the timing of their release of the serious case reviews does look cynical.
“It’s well over a year since they were announced and the reports are now being sneaked out on the last Friday before Christmas, in the hope that no one will notice.
“Accountability and transparency should be paramount here, not cynical media management.”
Danczuk said he had to fight “tooth and nail” to persuade the safeguarding board to commit to the serious case reviews “after their previous chair told me it wasn’t necessary”.
The board eventually did so after the prime minister warned that he could call an independent serious case review if the council’s own report failed to deal with the issues.
Even so, there have been long delays. Seven months ago officials at Rochdale council were insisting that the reviews were “days or weeks” away from publication.
“The review is independently drafted and works to its own time scales,” said a spokesman. “The council is disappointed it has taken so long.”
Rochdale’s failure to protect grooming victims has already been condemned by a House of Commons select committee, and last month the council agreed to pay a six-figure sum in compensation to a prominent victim of the abuse.
Girl A, now 20, was preyed upon by a gang of predominantly Pakistani men after being groomed at two takeaway restaurants in Heywood. In May 2012 her nine abusers were jailed for a total of 77 years.