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Child Sexual Exploitation: Grooming Gangs

Volume 795: debated on Thursday 24 January 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with the prosecution of grooming gangs in Rotherham and elsewhere; and what assistance they have offered to victims and their families.

My Lords, there are a number of criminal investigations currently ongoing in Rotherham and other parts of the country that have led to prosecutions resulting in convictions. Supporting victims requires a multiagency effort to protect them and help rebuild their lives. The Government provide funding for victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation, and additional funding has been provided to agencies in Rotherham.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that I had the painful privilege of becoming friends with a number of young women who have suffered such atrocities, including Caitlin Spencer—a pseudonym—whose life story was published in a must-read book, Please, Let Me Go, in which she describes how from the age of 14 she was groomed, sexually exploited and trafficked around this country by gangs of men. I have placed a copy in your Lordships’ Library. Given that Caitlin still sees her abusers driving their taxis with impunity and that other victims similarly see perpetrators living freely and intimidating them, what more will the Government do to bring those perpetrators to justice?

My Lords, Operation Stovewood is now operating in respect of Rotherham. To support women such as Caitlin, the National Crime Agency has a dedicated team of independent sexual violence advisers working with investigators and service providers in Rotherham to create a bespoke survivor pathway for victims and their families. The Department for Education is providing additional funding of up to £2 million to children’s social care. The Ministry of Justice has also provided £1.6 million to the police and crime commissioner for the commissioning of local victims’ services, and additional funding for specialist support.

Can the Minister say a little more about what lessons may have been learned to help victims of grooming through the prosecution process? Are any further steps planned to help support victims through those very difficult cases?

My Lords, Operation Stovewood is a victim-focused investigation carried out under a strategy known as the survivor pathway, with a dedicated team of independent sexual violence advisers. In addition, when taking forward the consideration of prosecution, the CPS has regard to the victims’ code and to guidance on how it should approach and deal with victims in that context. Over and above that, we have the statutory provisions of Sections 16 and 17 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, whereby victims and other witnesses who are vulnerable or potentially intimidated can have their evidence taken by video recording and be cross-examined via a television link.

My Lords, this whole sorry business led to the collapse of the political and official authority in Rotherham, and that was one reason why, during my time as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, I put in commissioners. Does my noble and learned friend agree that we need to look beyond the immediate victims and towards future victims, and consider the conditions that have been created, which can be addressed only by dealing with particularly vulnerable families? Will he tell the House what the Government are doing, in co-operation with the local authority and voluntary organisations in Rotherham, to increase the esteem of young girls and to find ways of dealing with the root cause of this problem?

My noble friend is entirely right: we need to look not only at the consequences of these abhorrent crimes but at the causes if we are to prevent further victims emerging. In that context, the Home Office is taking forward work on a number of fronts to improve our understanding of group-based child sexual exploitation and how it manifests in different ways throughout the country. Therefore, steps are being taken at both national and local agency level to see what can be done not only to protect vulnerable children in this context but to deter and indeed disrupt persons becoming engaged in such devastating crimes.

My Lords, I commend the comments that have already been made in the House this morning, and I commend the work of the police and crime commissioner, the chief constable and the MP for Rotherham, Sarah Champion. However, perhaps I may raise a small issue that follows through on the point raised earlier by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. Will the Minister talk to his colleagues about taxi drivers registering in one local authority area but operating in another? That causes real difficulties in clamping down.

The noble Lord makes a valid observation. There has been an association between these abhorrent crimes and certain areas such as minicab driving. Officials and Ministers are considering the registration of minicab drivers in one area in order that they can then operate in another.

My Lords, will the Minister use his influence to incorporate the position of children in public care who were exposed to such dreadful experiences? When the state has parental responsibility for these vulnerable young children, it has to make sure that it knows where they are and what they are doing. Is it not dreadful that these children were exposed to such dangers and that apparently, it was not known where they were?

My Lords, I entirely accept the noble Lord’s observation. Clearly, there were failures in many areas that left those children exposed to these abhorrent crimes. That is one reason why Operation Stovewood, directed by the National Crime Agency, has taken over investigations in, for example, Rotherham, where it is looking at the exploitation of children for purposes of sexual abuse from 1997 to 2013. Other reports have been made but further work needs to be done.

My Lords, in the case of claims arising from sexual offences, is it not worth transferring funds from the criminal injuries compensation scheme so that they can be spent on counselling victims? That happens in Germany, which has a far more substantial budget to spend in that regard.

As the noble Lord may be aware, changes to the criminal injuries compensation scheme have been considered and addressed in the context of victims of child sexual abuse. So some changes have been made, but I cannot indicate that further material changes will be made to the scheme at this time.