Thursday 11 December 2014

The Rotherham Report: verdict first, trial later?

Since the  explosion  of allegations about the late Jimmy Savile in 2012, we have become accustomed to a plethora of inquiry reports pronouncing  guilt without the merest whiff of due process.

In a similar vein in August this year, the Rotherham Independent Inquiry into Child Exploitation came to the shocking verdict that at least 1400 children in the town had been hideously  abused over 14 years in plain sight of the protective authorities with barely a prosecution to show for it.

During the past few years public awareness of the ‘grooming gangs’ has increased through a number of high-profile prosecutions, but if the claims made in the Rotherham report have substance, these are indeed the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

However at Chris Saltrese Solicitors, we have learnt to be wary of presumptive and stereotyped claims – and how they can preface a witch hunt.

 With investigative expectations to the fore, too often evidence may be coaxed and confabulated to fit a pre-conceived image, especially where the events in question are long past and there may be financial incentives for complainants.

In the Rotherham report, a handful of extreme case history allegations documented are said to typify the speculative number of victims’ experiences as a whole predominantly at the hands of ‘Asians’. 

In so doing, the entire the 8000 strong Pakistani –Kashmiri community in the town has been veiled in suspicion and suggestions of a cover-up, while the National Crime Agency has taken charge of investigations from the seemingly hapless  South Yorkshire Police.

We have in the past written critically of the oversight by police and social workers in allowing young girls to engage in sexual activity detrimental to their welfare, while  urging caution in accepting oral testimony uncritically.

Thus we make no apologies for questioning the presumptions and the soundness of the evidence-base of the Rotherham report in our newly published critique.

 Furthermore we point to the hypocrisy of the child protection establishment in their support for the Gillick ruling in the 1980s which granted children sexual autonomy as if they were adults by permitting contraception and abortion services without parental notification and consent.

Little wonder therefore that some girls were easily vulnerable to persuasion as to perceived sexual freedom, aping  the culture of clubbing and recreational casual sex that the adult and media  world shamelessly flaunts.

While the Rotherham report clearly documents the processes that failed potential victims and their families over the years, it is far from clear how reliable and extensive the violent exploitation, trafficking and multiple perpetrator rape claims were.

Furthermore the source of much of the ‘hard core’ evidence appears to emanate from an untrained advocacy source, Risky Business. 

One member of the project provided a report for a Home Office project in 2001 which appears to have been rejected in mysterious circumstances. 

Perhaps even more mysteriously however, since this researcher’s original findings are held as being unjustifiably suppressed, the identity of this key player remains anonymous. 

She has since the report was published given media interviews claiming that her original data was stolen (something not alleged in the report), and also given evidence anonymously to the Home Affairs Select Committee in private.

While complainants in sexual offence cases enjoy lifetime anonymity, it is not clear why a council employee responsible for gathering claims of serious criminal offences should be allowed a similar licence, particularly in the light of the fact that a succession of senior officials and councillors have been forced to stand down over the affair.

Stripped of hyperbole, the fact is we know very little of the nature and extent of the criminal activity underpinning the conclusions of the Rotherham report.

The liberal use of emotive terms such as 'grooming' and 'trafficking' can obscure rather than identify the facts given their broad definition spanning from being nice to a child and giving someone a lift to abduction and murder.

In a climate of fear, the more severe the conclusion the more likely it is that sexual abuse inquiries are guaranteed virtual immunity from critical scrutiny.  'Better safe than sorry' is the understandable overriding maxim. 

But this is misconceived. A rush to presumptive judgment will do little to ensure justice, or protect future children from harm and could foster widespread injustice and avoidable harm.

However other than pointing the finger of blame, there has been little or no critical debate to be heard either in the media or political circles. 

 Our critique, based only on the report itself,  is a small step in that direction. 


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