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Melanie McDonagh

What’s the truth about the Telford grooming gangs?

What's the truth about the Telford grooming gangs?
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More than 1,000 girls were sexually exploited in Telford over several decades. The details in the report, published this week, on what happened in the Shropshire town make for harrowing reading. But there's a curious omission in the way its author Tom Crowther QC refers to the perpetrators of these terrible crimes. 

The majority of the men responsible, we are told, 'were men of southern Asian heritage'. But is this specific enough? Surely the men who groomed and raped so many vulnerable young girls while social services, schools and police turned a blind eye, cannot just be defined by an enormous geographical area comprehending two billion people?

When Sajid Javid was home secretary, he commissioned a study, drilling down into the background of grooming gangs to find out more detail, noting that many of the perpetrators were of Pakistani ethnicity. The report subsequently found that there was a 'lack of evidence' for any ethnic link to grooming gangs, and there is not much more evidence in Crowther's report to suggest there is one either. 

Crowther admits he is 'cautious not to infer too much from names, which may indicate wider geographical background and indeed religious heritage, but are wholly unreliable indicators of national background and (in particular) religious belief'. But if we are to learn anything from these terrible events, surely we must – as Javid suggested – probe more deeply into the identity of the men who committed these crimes.

The abuse in Telford would seem to belong to a similar pattern to what happened in Rochdale, Oldham, Sheffield and Oxfordshire, where men treated girls as fair game, as sexual commodities. In Telford, as in those other places, the problem was ignored by the authorities, often out of fear of offending political sensibilities. Crowther had as much time as he wanted to establish the precise background of the perpetrators in Telford; he could have found the answers. But it seems he chose not to ask the right questions.

No doubt in many of these areas where abuse took place, the men happen to belong to professions, such as taxi drivers, which allow for access to young girls and extended absence from their families. But if there is an ethnic, cultural or religious component to the abuse in Telford it must be properly confronted. Were the men who formed these grooming gangs brought up to regard white girls as promiscuous, as fair game? Are there aspects of these men's backgrounds and faith – and I am putting this as delicately as I can – which do not emphasise the dignity of women from other cultures? If so, we should have been told. 

But Crowther was, like the police themselves, seemingly too fastidious and too worried about inflaming tensions, to do so. His report shows the same reluctance to ask hard questions which characterised the police response in the first place and led to the betrayal of so many girls. Read this element of his report:

‘I have no doubt that concern about racism, and being seen to be racist, permeated the mind of WMP (West Mercia Police), and indeed of the Council and the minds of some of its employees, given the apparent tensions at the time. That is not a bad thing: there should be a culture of equality of treatment and fairness in delivery in government. But I am satisfied that this nervousness led to a reluctance to act.’

'Not a bad thing?' Really? Bad for whom? Certainly it was bad for the girls who were raped, abused, stigmatised and made to feel utterly worthless. It was also bad for their unfortunate parents, because it didn’t actually address the issues underlying their abuse and the reasons why the authorities ignored it. 

If it were my 15-year-old daughter who had been groomed, raped and ignored by police and local councils, I’d be very, very angry. I’d be wanting police chiefs, social services heads and local council representatives sacked, named, shamed and possibly prosecuted for dereliction of duty. I would also be very angry with Tom Crowther. His extensive report into the Telford abuse is certainly useful. But it isn’t enough.