Last week, the long-awaited Home Office report into child grooming was finally published. Commissioned by former Home Secretary Sajid Javid, it was supposed to put the official spotlight on to one of the greatest scandals in British history – the systemic abuse of white working-class girls by Asian men.
Instead, it was a whitewash. Literally. The sole definitive conclusion, cast amid a jumble of Civil Service sophistry, was that ‘research has found that group-based CSE [child sexual exploitation] offenders are most commonly white’.
The study had actually found no such thing. As Priti Patel pointedly acknowledged in her foreword: ‘Some studies have indicated an over-representation of Asian and black offenders.
‘However, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the ethnicity of offenders as existing research is limited and data collection is poor. This is disappointing because community and cultural factors are clearly relevant to understanding and tackling offending.’
A reconstruction scene in Channel 4’s Dispatches about the grooming of girls by a gang. Last week, the long-awaited Home Office report into child grooming was finally published
It’s not ‘disappointing’ – it’s another appalling abdication of responsibility by officials and a system that has again failed the countless victims of Britain’s Asian grooming gangs.
And instead of exposing the abuse and the abusers, the grooming report has provided a case study in the way the British Establishment continues to thwart any attempt to finally get a grip on an issue that shames our nation.
When Javid first announced an investigation to ‘establish the particular characteristics and contexts associated with this type of offending’, it created controversy. Especially when, a few weeks later, he greeted the conviction of a 20-strong Huddersfield grooming gang with the words: ‘These sick Asian paedophiles are finally facing justice. I want to commend the bravery of the victims. For too long, they were ignored. Not on my watch.’
Javid’s liberal critics accused him of stoking prejudice, while some Conservative colleagues claimed he was simply posturing for a forthcoming Tory leadership election.
But a ministerial ally told me: ‘Some issues get under your skin. And that’s what happened with Saj. When you become Home Secretary, you get taken to see the unit that’s combating child abuse. And they’re literally looking at live streams of children being attacked. As a father, and a Muslim man, this was personal to him.’
I spoke to a number of Javid’s aides who worked with him at that time. Each of them was clear on two important points. His intention was to produce a comprehensive and definitive report on child grooming. And that report was going to be made public.
‘It was never supposed to be internal,’ one said. ‘There was an expectation we might not find correlation between ethnicity and abuse. But Saj was clear we needed to understand what was happening. And we also needed to accept that if there was a link with race, it had to be addressed.’
I also spoke to representatives of victims’ groups who were in close contact with Javid at that time. Again, they were clear. ‘He didn’t just tell us it was going to made public – he told everyone,’ one recalls. ‘He told the press. It wasn’t a secret.’
Commissioned by former Home Secretary Sajid Javid (pictured above), the report was supposed to put the official spotlight on to one of the greatest scandals in British history
But whatever Javid’s intention, after a few months it became evident something was wrong. Victims’ groups found themselves being kept at arm’s length from officials working on the report. No date for publication was set. Then finally the Home Office came clean. The report was only intended for internal use, the department announced. Publication would not be ‘in the public interest’.
A number of explanations were offered for this dramatic change of stance. ‘Part of it is the Home Office culture,’ a Minister told me. ‘There’s always pressure from officials to tone things down. They don’t like explosions. So they look at you and say, ‘You do realise that if we make this public, then the next question will be: ‘So what are you going to do about it?’ ‘ ‘
Another said the issue was partly one of timing. ‘Sajid announced this straight after Windrush. In the wake of that, the department was especially sensitive about anything to do with race.’
One Minister also believes a factor was Javid’s own naivety in how he dealt with the Home Office’s notoriously Delphic senior officials. ‘Saj didn’t fully commit internally to publication,’ the source explained. ‘And that left quite a grey area. The Permanent Secretary was given room for manoeuvre. It let him commission a much more general report.’
No one looked for the data on race, as they knew what they would find
One other key area – the one Ms Patel was careful to highlight in her foreword – was the lack of hard data on the ethnicity of offenders. It was an issue Home Office aides kept using as a rationale for not drawing a clearer link to the predominance of Asian offenders found in countless high-profile grooming cases. But as one official explained: ‘They were right, there wasn’t any hard data. But that was because people didn’t want to record it or look for it because they knew exactly what they would find.’
Whatever the reasons, by the time Javid left the Home Office in July 2019, the fate of his investigation had been sealed. As one representative of the victims bluntly put it: ‘The civil servants buried it. Saj was committed to it, but they were the ones who buried it – 100 per cent.’
But if the Home Office thought it had seen the back of the issue with the departure of Javid, they were to be disappointed.
‘When Priti Patel arrived, she was clear she was going to fight over this,’ said the Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion, who was sacked from Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench for speaking out on child grooming. ‘She came up to Rotherham, she spent the day up there, she talked to victims, she talked to the police.’
Ms Patel also asked for an update on the status of the Javid report but was stonewalled. ‘Priti asked to see where they had got to,’ a Minister disclosed. ‘But it wasn’t forthcoming. They were reluctant to provide the work.’
One other key area – the one Priti Patel (pictured above) was careful to highlight in her foreword – was the lack of hard data on the ethnicity of offenders
It was around this time that relations began to deteriorate between the Home Secretary and her Permanent Secretary, Sir Philip Rutnam.
‘This was one of the first big points of conflict between her and Rutnam,’ a Government official told me. Eventually Rutnam would resign, alleging Patel bullied him and his officials.
A subsequent investigation by Sir Alex Allan found she had unintentionally been guilty of such behaviour. But Sir Alex also observed: ‘The Home Secretary has also become – justifiably in many instances – frustrated by the Home Office leadership’s lack of responsiveness.’
That frustration was heightened when Patel’s officials finally relented and produced their work. ‘It was basically just a set of slides,’ a Minister explained. ‘There was some academic analysis and a few case studies. And that was it.’ After the commitments given by her and her predecessor, Patel realised that what she’d been presented with represented nothing less than a betrayal of the grooming victims. And she chose to act.
First, she instructed officials to begin work on a proper report. Secondly, she told them – unequivocally – that this new work would be for publication. And finally, and most crucially, she ordered them to ensure it had input from the victims and their representatives.
The first meeting between Home Officials mandarins and this newly formed External Research Group (ERG) was held in July. And the same problems resurfaced. ‘The civil servants just spent the meeting talking at us,’ one attendee told me. The draft report they presented was ‘meaningless – the blandest document you could get’.
‘When Priti Patel arrived, she was clear she was going to fight over this,’ said the Labour MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion (above)
And again, Home Officials fell back on the old argument. There was insufficient hard data to demonstrate a clear link between ethnicity and the grooming gangs.
But as Labour’s Sarah Champion said: ‘There are almost 100 people in jail now for grooming in and around Rotherham. Nationally there are between 500 and 1,000 people in jail for these offences. That’s quite a decent sample size isn’t it? Why doesn’t the Home Office simply sit down with those offenders, interview them, and create an offenders’ profile from that?’
Two further meetings of the ERG were held. They were described to me by one participant as ‘a waste of time and money’.
But by that point Patel had run out of road. The Rutnam issue had exploded. She could not afford any further high-profile rows with her officials. And she had given a commitment that some form of report into grooming would be published. ‘It’s been frustrating for her,’ an ally told me. ‘Not just because of officials, though it’s been very difficult to get some of them to this point.’
A Minister with knowledge of the issue was more direct. ‘Priti tried to take the report as far as she could. The problem was police didn’t collect data and Home Office officials didn’t act.’
Publication of the report has produced some positives. Police will now start collecting ethnicity data on grooming offenders. Ministers say that within the Home Office there is now an acceptance that cultural factors are a significant component in child sexual exploitation.
And I’m told Patel is determined not to let the matter rest. ‘She’s going to return to this,’ a Home Office insider reports. ‘The key thing is police are now going to be collecting the data. And that will give us a robust offender sample. So she’s going to be announcing something else on this early next year.’
Javid, who has discussed the report with his successor, also believes some progress has been made. ‘It’s not the definitive account Saj was asking for,’ a friend says, ‘and it doesn’t answer the fundamental question, but it’s a step forward.’
Maybe. But we should be beyond baby steps now. It’s more than 20 years since the authorities were first alerted to the pattern of systemic abuse of children in Rochdale. And there has still not been any official national recognition of the horrors inflicted by Asian grooming gangs.
Nor is this simply about providing closure for the victims, important though that is. Because the abuse is still happening today.
As one former victim, Sammy Woodhouse, told me: ‘I want justice. As a survivor I want to keep the pressure on to put this right. If we understand who’s doing this we can prevent and tackle it. But the report doesn’t do that. It’s pointless.’
There’s a reason. Windrush. Grenfell. Footballers taking a knee. The impact of Covid on black and ethnic communities. The British people are consistently told to view issues through the prism of race. Save for one. When it comes to the systemic mass child abuse, they are instructed to turn a blind eye. To do so, the Home Office says, is in the public interest.
The Home Office is wrong. It is not in the public interest to continue to cover up of one of the darkest chapters in our nation’s history.
Last week the victims of Britain’s Asian grooming gangs were betrayed once more. They must not be betrayed again.