Fear of being called racist 'stopping people from raising child abuse concerns'

The gang pleaded guilty or were convicted in a series of trials at Newcastle Crown Court. Credit: Northumbria Police
  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green

Potential cases of child abuse are not being raised because people fear being labelled racist, a Labour frontbencher has argued.

There is a need to acknowledge that the "majority of perpetrators have been British-Pakistani" in the towns and cities where grooming gangs have targeted girls, Sarah Champion has said.

The Labour MP for Rotherham - a town where grooming gangs have previously been exposed - added that the lack of action in highlighting potential cases is because people are "more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse".

Former Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) chief Lord Macdonald of River Glaven also admitted cases of Asian grooming gangs targeting white girls were not previously examined "as rigorously as they might have been".

However, Lord Macdonald believes this is no longer the case, with recent successful prosecutions showing the "so-called taboos" no longer exist, and called on all communities to recognise it is a "profoundly racist crime".

The arguments of both Ms Champion and Lord Macdonald were made in the wake of the convictions of a gang in Newcastle who plied young girls and vulnerable women with drugs and alcohol, before raping and sexually abusing them at parties.

The court heard how older men preyed on their victims, often conning them into believing they were in a relationship with their abuser who would then pass them round their network to be used for sex.

In a series of trials at Newcastle Crown Court, a total of 17 men and one woman were convicted, or pleaded guilty, to a series of charges including rape, supplying drugs and prostitution.

As well as Newcastle and Rotherham, sex abuse rings have also been uncovered in Rochdale.

These 10 men were jailed in 2016 for sex offences in Rochdale over a five-year period. Credit: ITV News

"The grooming gangs that we're seeing, that we're getting the big prosecutions for are predominantly British-Pakistani men," Ms Champion told ITV News.

"This is an indicator that we need to be taking seriously.

"We need to understand why that's happening.

"Of course there are many forms of child abuse going on with different make-ups, but the actual MO [modus operandi] of these people are they are British-Pakistani men.

"We need to address it, we can't shy away from that, because for political correctness or fear of being racist, or whatever it is, we haven't addressed this problem.

"We have to address this problem now."

Ms Champion told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, that research needs to be commissioned "to see what's going on and how we need to change what's going on so it never happens again."

The shadow women and equalities minister said every time she speaks about the issue, the level of Islamophobia increases, adding: "The far right will attack me for not doing enough, the floppy left will have a go at me for being a racist.

"But this isn't racist, this is child protection and we need to be grown-up about this and deal with it."

Ms Champion said the prosecutions and convictions of grooming gangs are "predominantly Pakistani men", adding: "If it was people from a particular town that was doing this crime across the country, if it was people from - I don't know - a motorbike gang doing this, we'd recognise that as an indicator and we'd deal with it - but we're just not dealing with it."

Asked why, the 48-year-old said: "I genuinely think it's because people are more afraid to be called a racist than they are afraid to be wrong about calling out child abuse.

"I know in Rotherham I've met frontline social workers who, when - we're talking 10 years ago - they were trying to report this crime, were sent on race relations courses, they were told they were going to have disciplinary action if they didn't remove the fact they were identifying the person as a Pakistani male.

"This is still going on in our towns now, I know it's still going on but we're still not addressing it."

Ms Champion branded the grooming gangs a "national problem", and called for a national taskforce to be set up to deal with the issue, as well as better training for frontline staff.

Lord Macdonald is a former director of public prosecutions. Credit: PA

Also speaking to Today, Lord Macdonald, a former director of public prosecutions, said that he believed a fear of being labelled racist may have stopped people voicing concerns in the past, but it is "no longer the case".

"I think there has been in the past a reluctance to investigate a category of crime that people might believe attaches to a particular community in circumstances where men may be targeting young women," the 64-year-old said.

He continued: "I think that's no longer the case and I think the fact that these sorts of cases are now being brought successfully demonstrates that those sorts of so-called taboos no longer exist - but I don't think any of us can pretend that in the past these cases have been examined as rigorously as they might have been."

Lord Macdonald was asked by presenter John Humphrys: "In other words, we're talking about - by and large - Muslim men who have been targeting white girls?"

He replied: "Yes, exactly," and continued: "There's obviously a serious issue about the way young women are regarded in these cases - regarded as trash, regarded as available for sex, and this seems to be a recurring theme - and I don't think anyone thinks now we've got it.

"This is a major problem, it's a major problem in particular communities and it has to be confronted not just by law enforcement but by communities themselves."

Mr Humphrys added: "In other words, we've allowed political correctness - if that's the right expression - to interfere with the course of justice?"

While Lord Macdonald conceded this may have happened in the past, this was "no longer the case".

Chief Con Steve Ashman said men of all ethnicities had been arrested and convicted. Credit: PA

However, speaking after the announcement of the Newcastle convictions on Wednesday, Northumbria Police Chief Constable Steve Ashman said his force's investigations into sex rings had seen men from a wide range of communities arrested and convicted, including white men as well as men from Asian backgrounds.

"It has to be driven out in terms of its social acceptability", Chief Con Ashman insisted.