That the Home Office compiled a report on the political hot potato of child grooming gangs and then actually published it represents progress of a sort. Were you especially charitably disposed towards the department, you could call to mind Dr Johnson talking about the feat of a dog walking on its hind legs: ‘It is not done well, but you are surprised to find it done at all.’
So credit is due to Home Secretary Priti Patel for doggedly battling to ensure that ‘Group-based Child Sexual Exploitation – Characteristics of Offending’ ever saw the light of day.
But when it comes to expecting her civil servants to answer the question about the extent to which Pakistani-heritage men make-up grooming gangs (which is, let’s face it, the main point at issue), the Home Secretary has been notably less successful.
For what has emerged is an exercise in self-deception via the turning of blind eyes, headlong rushes into obfuscation and the construction of straw men. In working-class towns like Rotherham and Telford, which saw hundreds of children abused by grooming gangs, this is not going to convince people the Government is taking the issue sufficiently seriously.
The top line of the report – absurdly, given the blanket media coverage of an apparently never-ending series of group trials involving scores of men of Pakistani heritage in recent years – is that grooming gangs come from ‘diverse backgrounds’.
While the Home Office authors concede there have been high-profile cases that ‘have mainly involved men of Pakistani ethnicity’ they add that ‘the academic literature highlights significant limitations to what can be said about links between ethnicity and this form of offending.’
‘Some studies suggest an over-representation of black and Asian offenders relative to the demographics of national populations. However, it is not possible to conclude that this is representative of all group-based CSE offending,’ they say.
They add that in fact: ‘Research has found that group-based child sexual exploitation (CSE) offenders are most commonly white.’
Note that linguistic sleight of hand – not ‘usually’ but ‘most commonly’. Digging into the report’s section on the ethnicity of offenders one learns that an official data collection exercise in 2011 involving police forces and other agencies found that of 2,300 possible offenders there was no basic information held about 1,100. Among the remaining 1,200, ethnicity data was not known for 38 per cent. Of the remaining suspects – approximately 750 by my arithmetic – ‘30 per cent of offenders were White, while 28 per cent were Asian’. This presumably is the finding used to justify ‘most commonly White’ – but which seems to miss the obvious point that the white population of England and Wales is around 80 per cent overall.
A second smaller study from 2013 mentioned in the report found that of 306 offenders looked at, 75 per cent were Asian, which actually amounts to a ten-fold over-representation, though the report does not point this out.
Instead, it trots out irrelevances to lead itself away from the veritable elephant in the room. At one point it cites information from police forces suggesting that ‘the nationalities and ethnicities of offenders and suspects… varied considerably, including American, Angolan, Bangladeshi, Bengal, British…’ (etc. ad infinitum). Yet has anyone ever suggested that there are nationalities completely immune to taking part in group CSE? Not to my knowledge.
A lack of reliable data is repeatedly cited as a barrier to knowing whether some ethnic groups are really over-represented among the villains. ‘This lack of good quality data limits what can be known about the characteristics of offenders, victims and offending behaviour,’ the report insists.
Then there are the extended passages of padding and jargon of a sort frequently deployed in Whitehall fence-sitting exercises, such as: ‘It is likely that a combination of factors come together to create the conditions in which an individual is motivated and able to offend… A range of factors are almost certainly involved.’
Or take this word salad:
“‘Safeguarding should also take into account the local context, identifying and building safeguards around vulnerable children, and intervening in the situations or environments in which they are likely to be targeted. Local multi-agency safeguarding partnerships are well-placed to do this in a strategic way.’
The findings presented with most vigour are the ones that imply more public spending: ‘Victims and survivors should have access to the right support whenever and however they seek it out.’
Priti Patel has written a foreword to the report that acknowledges: ‘Victims and survivors of these abhorrent crimes have told me how they were let down by the state in the name of political correctness.’
She also notes that it is ‘disappointing’ to be told that it is difficult to draw conclusions about the ethnicity of offenders on the basis that ‘existing research is limited and data collection is poor.’
‘Community and cultural factors are clearly relevant to understanding and tackling offending,’ writes Ms Patel, before making a commitment to improve the collection and analysis of data in this field ‘including in relation to characteristics of offenders such as ethnicity.’
My interpretation of this is that she is letting it be known – including to her own civil servants – that this excuse of a paucity of data will not wash for very much longer.
So the Home Secretary faces a struggle with her own senior officials on yet another very important front. Might a new attempt be mounted to end her career prematurely? You bet.