Ipswich MP: Grooming gangs swept under the rug due to political correctness

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt is pleased to see an end to the national lockdown - but warned: 'This isn't the end of the struggle.'...

Ipswich MP Tom Hunt says victims of grooming gangs have for too long 'been let down by the establishment' - Credit: Archant

This Wednesday in Parliament, I led a debate on an incredibly sobering issue which demands justice in our country.

Two petitions had been introduced by the public - one asking for the immediate release of the Home Office Grooming Gangs Review, and the other asking for a public inquiry into grooming gangs.

Fortunately, in Ipswich, grooming gangs has not been an issue which has blighted our town as it has done northern towns like Rotherham, Rochdale and Telford.

However, the appalling crimes that we saw taking place in those towns are just the tip of the iceberg in what is a country-wide problem.

I believe it’s clear that the reason grooming gangs have not been dealt with is due to political correctness from officials – the local authorities, police, and the CPS – who have decided to sweep the problem under the rug instead of facing uncomfortable truths.

In 2019, reported data showed that almost 19,000 children had been sexually groomed that year.

Campaigners said the true figure is likely higher and accused the government of failing to tackle child sexual exploitation, despite repeated promises to do so in the wake of the Rotherham and Rochdale cases.

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Sarah Champion, the MP for Rotherham, has previously criticised the government - saying that: "Too many times, government has said it would ‘learn lessons’."

The Home Office did release a report on Group-Based Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) in December. But I believe that the report shows that there is a lot more work to do.

Sajid Javid pushed for the review as home secretary in July 2018, pledging that there would be “no no-go areas of inquiry”.

He said he would “not let cultural or political sensitivities get in the way of understanding the problem and doing something about it".

When it eventually did come out, however, many survivors felt that the pushback he received from civil servants resulted in a report that has failed to investigate key issues to do with the make-up and mentality of grooming gangs.

Ahead of the debate, I touched base with the petition creator and some of the survivors of this appalling crime.

It's clear that many of the survivors believe they were targeted specifically because of their ethnic and cultural background.

Often these gangs would use their victim’s perceived ‘western-ness’ to justify their degrading treatment and abuse of these young girls over many years. Some were targeted from as young as 12.

We must of course ward off any form of extremism from people who might wish to weaponise this issue against certain minority groups in this country.

However, we should be unflinching in recognising that those convicted of these crimes in Rotherham were predominantly British-Pakistani men.

And we must get to grips with the motivations behind these particular gangs, the way they weaponised shame, justified their perverse actions to recruit others, to prey on vulnerable young girls.

The home secretary, in her Introduction to the December report, stated: "It is difficult to draw conclusions about the ethnicity of offenders as existing research is limited and data collection is poor.

"This is disappointing because community and cultural factors are clearly relevant to understanding and tackling offending."

I know many of the victims of this crime share her disappointment. I therefore welcomed the minister's promise that more work will be done and that going forward, data relating to the ethnic background of all those found guilty of grooming gang crime will be collected.

I'm at a loss as to why this wasn't the case in the past and the lack of such data has made it very hard to draw clear conclusions and therefore to robustly tackle this issue.

Fully understanding whether there are cultural reasons and explanations for the widespread nature of this appalling crime in certain parts of the country is incredibly important.

As Sarah Champion has said before, a good start would be to look at those already convicted of these grooming gang crimes.

I think that Priti Patel has done a great job in pushing to get this report released, and I fear that without her persistence we would not have got what we did in December.

Although I’m not in the Home Office, it seems to me that she received a lot of pushback from civil servants inside her own department who were concerned about cultural sensitivities.

The Conservative MP for Wakefield, Imran Ahmad-Khan, has been particularly outspoken about this.

As a reviewer of the report, he was consistently frustrated at the hurdles put in place by the Whitehall establishment to getting answers.

This is not good enough. For too long these victims have been let down by the establishment. Both at local and national level.

Too often those with knowledge have been too scared of speaking out for fear of being branded a racist. This must not be allowed to happen going forward.

Clearly, it is totally wrong for different communities to be stigmatised and we must always guard against racism, but we cannot sweep difficult issues under the carpet.

This doesn't help the situation and in the long run it can make community relations even more difficult.

If it is the case that certain crimes are disproportionately committed by members from within certain communities, we need to be open and honest about it.

Simply sweeping it under the carpet and refusing to confront the hard truths won't help the situation. In my view, that really needs to be one of the key lessons.

Ultimately, our children must come above all else. Political correctness and cultural sensitivities are no excuse for letting down generations of vulnerable young girls.

We now have a valuable opportunity to rectify the mistakes in policing and prosecution in the past and to take further action, based on facts, which would ensure that living as a young girl in the UK is much safer.