Shaun Wright: calls quitting the 'easy option'

Shaun Wright, South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Credit: Press Association

South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) Shaun Wright has insisted resigning would have been the "easy option" despite widespread calls for him to step down following the Rotherham child abuse scandal from the "entire political establishment".

Mr Wright told MPs the problem of child sexual exploitation (CSE) was not flagged up to him as a significant issue during his period as the councillor with responsibility for children's services in the town from 2005 to 2010.

Keith Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee which is looking into the recent report that disclosed at least 1,400 children were exploited in Rotherham, responded to the commissioner by saying:

"We don't accept you didn't know."

Mr Vaz asked Mr Wright how he could stay in his post in the face of almost universal calls for him to go, including from the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, Labour leader Ed Miliband, his own deputy - Tracey Cheetham, Sheffield City Council, the Police and Crime Panel that oversees him and the "entire political establishment".

He told the MPs: "I basically think that resigning would have been, perhaps, the easy option given the last fortnight with the various criticisms that have been made and the effect that that's had on both myself and my family."

Pressed again by Mr Vaz, Mr Wright said: "I don't recall one single external report from Ofsted or any other organisation that flagged CSE as being a significant issue."

He said: "Over that period of time not one member of the public came to a surgery of mine, not one local councillor asked me a question, either in my political group or in full council, not one local MP in Rotherham raised the issue or a case of CSE for those five years."

Mr Vaz told him: "We don't accept any of that."

Mr Wright said it was his responsibility to the people of South Yorkshire to continue in his post and said no-one had raised any questions about his conduct since his 2012 election - a suggestion scoffed at by Mr Vaz.

The commissioner said he resigned his post at the council in 2010 because of a poor Ofsted report but "I did not resign because of CSE".

Mr Wright said he had no recollection of having been given first-hand evidence by young victims of the abuse that was going on.

One grooming victim told The Times that she was among several survivors who held a face-to-face meeting with him in 2005 at the offices of an outreach group, Risky Business.

"I do not recall that meeting taking place," he told the committee.

He said: "As an elected councillor it would have been entirely inappropriate for me to ask to meet young victims of child sexual exploitation and ask them to explain to me or give me the details of the circumstances.

"I have never done that and nor would I deem it appropriate.

"But yes, I have met victims of child sexual exploitation but predominantly when they have become adults and wanted to offer that information up to me."

He claimed to have received "in excess of 100 messages of support" from individuals, including "many councillors, MPs and others".

Mr Wright told the MPs: "I can't honestly say I was aware of the industrial scale that's been described by Professor Jay until I read Professor Jay's report."

Defending his decision not to quit, he went on: "The best apology that anyone in my position can give a victim is to do our utmost to make sure that they receive the support that they need to recover and that we put in place proper measures to prevent it happening to other people.

"I have done nothing but reflect on my position and I have determined that the best that I can do for victims past, present and potentially future is to stay in my role and see through the work that I have set in train."

Mr Wright told the committee he believes he is "doing a very good job".

Ian Austin read out claims made by a victim that they had told Mr Wright the names of offenders and he had "acted shocked but we never saw him again".

The Labour MP said: "Are you really denying that level of detail?"

"I'm quite surprised," Mr Wright replied. "If I'd had that conversation I'm pretty sure I would have remembered it."

Mr Wright told the committee that being forced to quit the Labour Party had been "very painful".

He said: "I have taken my position. I feel a duty to serve out my term of office and the Labour Party have taken their position for their reasons."

Mr Wright dismissed claims that he was remaining in post only because of a "love of the salary" as "absolute nonsense".

Labour MP Paul Flynn said: "You are the least credible witness I have ever come across. I don't believe what you are saying."