MPs have published a draft bill to allow for the sacking of police and crime commissioners, in the wake of the Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal.
This follows the controversy over the initial refusal of South Yorkshire commissioner Shaun Wright (Lab) to resign after last August’s report by Professor Alexis Jay on abuse in Rotherham, where Mr Wright had formerly been the cabinet member for children’s services.
The home affairs select committee complained in a report on events in Rotherham, Child Sexual Exploitation and the Response to Localised Grooming, that a commissioner could not be sacked for anything short of conviction for an imprisonable offence.
A statement from committee chair Labour MP Keith Vaz (pictured) said: “Mr Wright’s position highlighted the fact that there is no way of removing PCCs, therefore the legacy of this episode is a draft bill, which sets out a suggested procedure to do so.” Mr Wright eventually resigned on 16 September.
The bill is a proposal from the committee but would need to be adopted by the government or as a private member’s bill to have a chance of becoming law.
The select committee’s report found there was “compelling evidence that both Rotherham MBC and South Yorkshire Police ignored numerous, credible warnings about the scale of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham”, including those from the council’s own outreach service Risky Business.
The report noted suggestions that documentary evidence concerning the allegations was stolen “in order to suppress it”, and called on the Home Office to fully investigate these claims, which Mr Vaz said gave rise to “public suspicion of a deliberate cover-up”.
He said: “We found it shocking that evidence of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was ignored by both Rotherham council and South Yorkshire Police.
“A number of individuals attempted to bring these crimes to light, only to face obstacles from the council and police which in some cases questioned their credibility and the veracity of their claims.
“If the council and police had taken these warnings seriously, the abusers could have been brought to justice more quickly and some of the later victims could have been spared their ordeal.”
The report also criticised Rotherham’s reaction when child sexual exploitation allegations were raised.
“The council had been inexcusably slow to realise that the widespread, organised sexual abuse of children, many of them in the care of the local authority, was taking place on their doorstep,” the report said.
“This was due in large part to a woeful lack of professional curiosity, or even indifference.”
Rotherham’s strategic director for children’s service Joyce Thacker resigned last month, and education secretary Nicky Morgan appointed Malcolm Newsam as children’s social care commissioner for the borough.
Chief executive Martin Kimber said last month that he would step down at the end of December and council leader Roger Stone (Lab) resigned as soon as the Jay report was published.
In a statement, Rotherham leader Paul Lakin (Lab) said: “As I have repeatedly stated since these events came to light, I too was extremely concerned to hear about the alleged removal of files, which is again referred to in today’s home affairs committee report. Consequently, I had already asked the chief executive to ensure a thorough internal investigation was carried out.
“I am also now asking the chief executive to widen out this investigation, given Alexis Jay’s comments about missing files from the period between 1999 and 2003. As soon as the outcomes of work are known, I will ensure the information is shared with all relevant agencies so that the appropriate action can be undertaken.
“We very much welcome the recommendation of the home affairs committee regarding the need for a separate, thorough, transparent and urgent investigation within the Home Office, with which the council will be happy to co-operate fully.
“I also instructed the chief executive to review again the actions of remaining Rotherham staff and to take any necessary capability or disciplinary action. Clearly this will take some time to follow due processes, but this work is now underway.
“I have also received assurances from the chief constable that an investigation independent of South Yorkshire Police is to be carried out into the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation, members and officers, following the issues highlighted in the Alexis Jay report. We will, of course, carefully consider its findings as soon as they are available and take the necessary steps to urgently address any issues raised.
“The council is already taking significant steps to improve and strengthen its political and managerial leadership and accountability – a key theme in today’s report. A newly-appointed interim chief executive will be in post within the next fortnight, and we are in the process of recruiting an interim strategic director of children’s services. As I have continued to make clear since I became leader, this is a new start for the council, and we are committed to making the changes that the children and young people of Rotherham deserve.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The home secretary is leading cross-government work to learn the lessons of Rotherham and has written to all chief constables stressing the highest standards must be met in tackling child sexual exploitation. She has also made it clear that there is a debate to be had on the issue of PCC recall.”