Rishi Sunak to set out grooming gangs taskforce plan

Posted: 3rd April 2023

Source: BBC News

Plans for a police taskforce to help officers tackle grooming gangs will be set out by the prime minister later.

Specialist officers will be sent to help local forces with their investigations, the government said.

It also promised better ethnicity data to help ensure abusers “cannot evade justice because of cultural sensitivities”.

Labour said it called for expanded police specialist teams nearly a decade ago but the government “failed to act”.

Mr Sunak will be in Leeds and Greater Manchester on Monday to meet victims and local police, and to mark the launch of the taskforce, which will be supported by the National Crime Agency.

He said: “The safety of women and girls is paramount.

“For too long, political correctness has stopped us from weeding out vile criminals who prey on children and young women.

“We will stop at nothing to stamp out these dangerous gangs.”

The plans also include introducing legislation to make membership of a grooming gang an aggravating factor during sentencing, Downing Street said.

And it said improved data on the ethnicity of perpetrators would also be used to help ensure suspects “cannot hide behind cultural sensitivities as a way to evade justice”.

But Sabah Kaiser, ethnic minority ambassador to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), said it was “very, very dangerous” to turn child sexual abuse “into a matter of colour”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme: “Child sexual abuse does not have a skin colour, it doesn’t have a religion, it doesn’t have a culture. Child sexual abuse does not discriminate.”

Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said it was “really important that by raising an issue such as race we don’t create other blind spots”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “Because for sure there are many, many predators, who prey on vulnerable children, who are from a range of cultural backgrounds.

“And there are many victims, who are not white girls, who deserve our attention and support.

“So my plea would be is that we are blind to nothing as we address issues of child sexual abuse.”

It comes after the government said people who work with children in England will be legally required to report child sexual abuse or face prosecution, under its plans.

Not reporting child abuse must be crime – inquiry
The move – which is subject to a consultation – was recommended last year by IICSA.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman told the BBC she wanted to correct one of the “biggest national scandals”.

Ms Braverman said while the fault lay with the perpetrators for “carrying out heinous and vile acts of depravity”, there was also “a wilful turning of the blind eye” among authorities.

She said that in towns around the country, “vulnerable white girls living in troubled circumstances have been abused, drugged, raped, and exploited” by networks of gangs of rapists, which she claimed were “overwhelmingly” made up of British-Pakistani males.

Ms Braverman added that “cultural sensitivities” and concerns about “being called bigoted” had played a role in high-profile abuse scandals including in Rochdale and Rotherham.

An independent inquiry found at least 1,400 children had been subjected to sexual abuse in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013, with the perpetrators predominantly men of Pakistani heritage.

Later, Home Office-commissioned research found that, more generally, there was not enough evidence to suggest members of grooming gangs were more likely to be Asian or black than other ethnicities.

Dr Ella Cockbain, associate professor at University College London’s Department of Security and Crime Science, said the government was “disregarding and contradicting” its own research.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “She (Ms Braverman) is choosing to mainstream hard-right talking points, and to push discredited stereotypes. “That is really dangerous and reductive. “It allows other offenders to get away with abuse.”

The Labour Mayor of West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin, called Ms Braverman’s comments a “dog whistle” – meaning a coded message designed to appeal to a certain group.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the government’s anti-grooming plans were not “a serious strategy” and accused ministers of “chasing headlines”.

She told the BBC the measures were “far too inadequate for the scale of the problem”.

She appeared to back the collection of ethnicity data, saying widespread data collection should be happening, but went on to say: “The government has to show some proper leadership and the Home Office hasn’t been showing that leadership”.

The Liberal Democrats’ home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said they supported steps to crack down on those responsible, but said: “Unless the government tackles the backlog in our courts and restores community policing, too many criminals will continue to evade justice.”

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