Home affairs - Minutes of EvidenceHC 68

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 12 June 2012

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Nicola Blackwood

Michael Ellis

Dr Julian Huppert

Alun Michael

Bridget Phillipson

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Jim Taylor, Chief Executive, Rochdale Council, and Councillor Colin Lambert, Leader of Rochdale Council, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: Could I call the Committee to order and ask Mr Lambert and Mr Taylor to sit down? Thank you very much for coming this morning. This is the Committee’s first session in our inquiry into child exploitation and we are very pleased to have both of you here today.

Are there any interests that need to be declared before the Committee other than those that are in the Register of Members’ Interests?

Councillor Lambert: I should declare that although I am here as a councillor, I work full-time for Jim Dobbin, Member of Parliament.

Q2 Chair: Thank you.

Can I begin with a question about the recent cases in Rochdale? All five girls who were witnesses against the defendants in these cases were known to social services at some point. You have publicly expressed concern about the way in which social services have reacted to this, Councillor Lambert. What are you concerns about what you have seen so far concerning this matter?

Councillor Lambert: Specific to the individuals here is the lack of sharing of data across services. You will be aware from the trial that the initial allegations were made some four years ago and then did not proceed, and at that point it appears that the co-ordination of the sharing of information with social services partner agencies therefore did not continue.

Q3 Chair: Do you consider that there ought to have been more resources given to the social services department in Rochdale? Obviously you have been the centre of a lot of interest on these matters. You tended to imply in the statements that you have made that social services perhaps had failed to provide the necessary leadership and support for these girls who eventually ended up either as witnesses or, I think in one case, as one of the victims in one of the prosecutions.

Councillor Lambert: Certainly, Chair, I would agree that I felt the back-up and support was not there. I would not necessarily link that at the time to lack of resources, but to a lack of procedures and a lack of understanding of what they were facing.

Q4 Chair: Mr Taylor, you have seen reference in the national media to the issue of race as being a factor in these cases. What is your view on this? Do you think that the origin of the perpetrators of these terrible crimes is a relevant factor? How important is it? Are you considering it, or do you think that this is just something that has emerged and needs to be looked at?

Jim Taylor: My opinion is that it is a terrible crime and that it is not exclusively a race issue, although clearly within Rochdale the issue of race has been raised. There are other victims across the country and other perpetrators who are not Asian, as is the case in Rochdale. My personal view is that I would treat this as a crime first and foremost, and then if any underlying issues are identified within individual communities-whether they be Asian or whether they be white communities, or indeed other communities-we need to deal with those in terms of strengthening those communities to help to identify these issues early and to bring them to the attention of the authorities.

Councillor Lambert: Certainly throughout, I have stuck to the fact that this is a horrendous crime against children. In this particular case, it is a group of Asian men and white girls. We do know that once this conviction has gone through successfully, there will no doubt be more cases coming forward. It is no more an Asian issue in terms of it being specific that it is the only time grooming and sex abuse takes place. Right across the country-and looking at a wider European scale-it is not always men; it can be men and women. It is not always white or non-white. It is an issue of the crime of child sex abuse. The one thing that I have tried to keep focused on in this Rochdale case is the need for legislative change in terms of protecting vulnerable children, both those in care and those in the chaotic families. We need to look at a way in which the UK deals with children who are vulnerable and how they can be attached to by groups.

Q5 Chair: But you will know that very senior politicians who know the community, in particular the British Pakistani community, have said that that is not the case. Jack Straw, the former Home Secretary, said, and I quote, that they, meaning the people of Pakistani heritage, "see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care...who they think are easy meat". Baroness Warsi, the chair of the Conservative party and a member of the Cabinet, agreed with him by saying that some Pakistani men see white girls as fair game. I think it is important we put this to you because you are the leader of the council and you are the chief executive, and it is in your area. Do you agree with those statements, Mr Taylor?

Jim Taylor: I think I just go back to what I was saying earlier: the community has reacted extremely supportively to these convictions. Two weeks ago, a new initiative was launched by the community-the Rochdale Community Forum-which had regional media coverage, in which myself, the council leader and the Chief Constable of GMP endorsed the grassroots consultation within those communities as to how information can be shared across those communities in terms of how they would report those matters to the authorities and these issues would be dealt with.

Q6 Chair: Yes, but on these comments, Councillor Lambert, do you agree with Baroness Warsi and Jack Straw, or do you disagree with them? They are quite clear. There is no grey area here; they are very clear in what they are saying.

Councillor Lambert: If their clear statement is that this crime was committed because of the Asian community, I strongly disagree with them, because I feel it is too easy to badge a crime. But, more importantly, it takes away from the crime itself when you can say it occurs only in this particular community. That is not true. It happens right across all our communities. In terms of badging it as an Asian crime, I think that is wrong. You can say that there are issues within communities; there are issues in all communities.

Q7 Mr Winnick: These are vile crimes that can be carried out only by those who are deeply sick in mind, and certainly those convicted deserve to stay in prison for a very long time indeed. I hope that will be the position. However, arising from what the Chair asked, the feeling has grown. Newspapers, certainly, may not be very favourable, Mr Lambert, to your local authority or to the party that, like myself, you belong to. The accusation of a kind is that there was inhibition, or a feeling that action should not be taken because it might offend those in the Asian community-it has been described as a form of political correctness and the rest. How would you respond to that?

Councillor Lambert: I would certainly disagree that that was any decision taken by Rochdale social services at the time. The decision not to proceed was by the Crown Prosecution Service; it is now reviewing cases. In our authority, we would never back away from taking a decision because of either the nature of somebody’s sex or the colour of their skin. If that was a factor in Crown Prosecution, it would have to defend that. I certainly hope it is not because, as I say, these crimes are committed by and to all our communities.

Q8 Mr Winnick: Would it not be correct to say that the overwhelming majority of Asians in Rochdale, as in any other place, have the same feeling of distaste and horror at what has occurred as every decent person would? Is there any reason why we should not come to the view that the overwhelming majority of Asians in Rochdale, like whites and other groups, have the same feeling of horror and condemnation of those who have carried out these monstrous crimes?

Councillor Lambert: Absolutely, Mr Winnick. The Asian community from day one came out against these horrendous crimes and, 10 days ago, from the grassroots formed the community forum. The statements have always been clear from that community. Previous offences on child abuse within the authority within the past 12 months by a white male did not get this type of reaction. That is why I would not want badge a crime in any particular area. But, yes, the Asian community has come out extremely strongly against these crimes and described them for what they are.

Q9 Bridget Phillipson: Just before I move on, in terms of the work of the community forum you were just describing, obviously that sounds like an important exercise in making sure the community is involved, but can I ask what is the make-up of the forum? Given that these are crimes predominantly affecting young women, are you making efforts to ensure that women from the Pakistani community and the Asian communities in Rochdale are also involved in that work?

Councillor Lambert: Certainly. Although the forum was initially set up through the mosques, at the first meeting there were women from the Asian community, women from the white community and men from the white community. As a community forum, we have to involve the community. So although it came up from the grassroots from within the BME community, they were determined to widen that right across the area-and not just to Rochdale, but to Heywood and Middleton into the Pennines, so that we bring the community in. All faith groups and both sexes, but also the age ranges, were to be brought in.

Q10 Bridget Phillipson: Thank you. Just moving on, what investigations have been carried out by the council to make sure that what has happened does not ever happen again-as much as it is ever possible to do that?

Jim Taylor: I think it is a matter of record that I have instigated an independent review of matters within the council-this is independent of the Safeguarding Board review-of the thematic and multi-agency approach to this issue, which is going to look at all the cases that were handled by children’s social care. It is also going to look at licensing arrangements within the council and also legal issues, and council communication and data and information sharing with other agencies, including the police. Clearly we have made improvements in Rochdale, and part of the review is to give an independent opinion of those improvements and whether they are, indeed, better safeguarding young people.

Q11 Bridget Phillipson: My understanding from reports I have read on these dreadful cases is that there was an issue regarding a private care home. What steps are being taken there to look at how you manage your contracts with providers who provide services on behalf of the council?

Jim Taylor: A number of years ago, the Council instigated a private provider forum where we have 41 children’s homes within Rochdale, and two main providers. It sounds a great deal, but I understand that there are 67 places in the 41 homes, so they are not huge. But we do have a private provider forum that meets regularly with Greater Manchester Police and council officials to share information, discuss issues, talk about neighbourhoods and share information about young people, if that is necessary. I think that is a positive initiative, and it has been reasonably successful recently in Rochdale.

Q12 Bridget Phillipson: Has anyone been disciplined so far?

Jim Taylor: No, they have not. When the review reports, it may or may not result in further investigations that could lead to that, but at the moment that has not happened.

Q13 Bridget Phillipson: Regardless of the individuals-there may be individual issues to address-it would appear that there is a broader cultural issue, and this is about not just one council or one area in terms of believing victims of abuse, particularly excluded young people such as young people in care. Are you taking action to make sure that those young people are believed when they come forward with reports?

Jim Taylor: You quite rightly say that this is not an issue relating to the area that we represent. Until recently, I think that social services and children’s social services departments have found difficulty in dealing with these issues, as indeed have other partners involved in this case. Until 2009, the national guidance referred to this issue as child prostitution; that was changed in 2009 to child sexual exploitation. Just looking at the connotations of those differences actually shifts the emphasis from one way to another. That is only as recently as 2009. I do think that with recent guidelines that the Government have put forward, and also various educational institutions that have done research on this, children’s social care departments are now better equipped to deal with those issues along with partners in terms of transfer of information.

Q14 Mark Reckless: Mr Taylor, you say that Rochdale council has already developed different ways of working. What changes have you made?

Jim Taylor: We have a child sexual exploitation screening tool that is based on a Barnardo’s model, and this is a matter of routine for every single referral that comes into children’s social care for a child of 12 and upwards. Then, if necessary, we refer that to a team that we set up a few years ago called the sunrise team, which is a multi-agency team located at the police station in Rochdale. There are police, drug and alcohol workers, social workers, health workers, youth services and also support workers who meet regularly to discuss those cases in terms of sharing information. I mentioned the private provider forum, which is a positive initiative. Also, we have run awareness sessions for every single high school child within Rochdale. Over 9,000 young people have had awareness sessions and their parents and carers have also been given information. Clearly, because it has been high profile in the media within Rochdale, there has been heightened awareness within the community. The communities and young people have wanted information, and we have endeavoured to do that.

Q15 Mark Reckless: Clearly nothing takes away from the personal responsibility of the individuals carrying out these types of crimes, but may I perhaps explore this issue? When you have, say, 13 or 14-year-old girls who may be going out at all times of night with much older men, and coming back having consumed alcohol and so on, what steps can those responsible for those girls take to stop that happening?

Jim Taylor: If a child is in local authority care and a social worker is responsible, they are clearly either in a foster placement or in a children’s home, and the social worker would work with either the foster carers or the children’s home to make sure that the young person was adequately protected and safe. That is not always possible, and there are matters of distance at times in terms of young people who are placed out of borough, and there needs to be a clear assurance that those safeguards are in place. But, in terms of restraining young people and having secure arrangements for young people with a general placement, I would suggest that maybe legislation in terms of that might need to be at least examined.

Q16 Mark Reckless: Otherwise this is just going to carry on occurring?

Jim Taylor: I don’t think there is any substitute for good foster carers, good care in a children’s home, good social work, building trust and relationships with the young person, education, and keeping them engaged in society. With that care planning, the vast majority of young people in such a situation do not become vulnerable, because they are adequately protected and adequately cared for. I think that vulnerable young children are perhaps where all those elements don’t fit together.

Q17 Mark Reckless: But to confirm, are you also saying that to deal with this issue-to stop this happening-there needs to be legislative change to empower foster carers, managers of children’s homes, councils, social workers and so on, to prevent physically girls in this situation from going out with these men late at night, for example?

Jim Taylor: I am not saying that.

Q18 Mark Reckless: I thought you had said that in response to my previous question. Can I just clarify that?

Jim Taylor: I am clarifying with you now that I am not saying that. For a parent who has a child, there is a law of the land as to what that parent can do with that child. If the child is continuing to go out, the parent may or may not decide to ground the child-I think that is the term-which may not involve locking a door, but the child is grounded because the child respects that decision of the parent or the individual. In many foster-caring placements across the country, a child can be grounded and the child would be grounded, and that would be absolutely fine.

Q19 Mark Reckless: But where that is not effective though-and perhaps I can address this to Mr Lambert-what do we do? Does Parliament need to assist you and those with a duty of care in doing that?

Councillor Lambert: I think Parliament can assist us and has a duty to assist us now that we are at this stage, on a national basis. It has not been this wide before. It is going to get wider in the UK in the next few months as cases come forward. Legislation? Yes. Children in care are all vulnerable. You have those children in care in local authority homes where there are guidelines and quite strong effective action. You then have children who are brought from outside-from other areas-into an area. So the whole authority takes the decision that this child is so vulnerable they have to be moved, perhaps by 100 or 200 miles. This is not an attack on the private homes-a lot of them are very good-but when a child is moved to a private home in, say, Rochdale, we have no say in the risk assessment, no part in the planning, and no part in saying that, given the vulnerability of that child, this is the wrong part of the community to place them in.

Q20 Chair: So those are the rules that have to change? At the moment, if it is a child placed from another local authority, you are basically saying you have no control over the situation-it is the home authority that deals with it. You would like to see those rules changed to give the local authority in whose area the child is placed more authority. Is that what you are saying?

Councillor Lambert: Certainly, Chair, what I would like to see is the authority that is receiving the child having a part in the risk assessment-in saying whether it is right for the vulnerability of that child to be served in the area they are being moved into.

Q21 Nicola Blackwood: Councillor Lambert, you said in the answer to the initial question that one of the primary problems was a failure of data collection. I find this a little bit difficult to understand, because surely all these children who were being exposed to these appalling experiences were going missing during that time. They were in care at this time and there were people who were supposed to be looking after them. While they were missing, somebody knew that they were not where they were supposed to be, and somebody should have tried to find out from those children when they came back what happened to them while they were missing. That is not a failure of data collection. That is a failure of care and a failure of responsibility on behalf of the people who were supposed to be caring for them. I would like to understand how that happened and who is taking responsibility for that.

Councillor Lambert: I would certainly say, with the identification of those questions you have just been asking, that a lot of it is based around the data itself.

Q22 Nicola Blackwood: Sorry, but that is not data.

Councillor Lambert: No, sorry, I may be explaining that slightly wrong. If the home authority is being informed by the care home that the child is missing, and if it is receiving that information, what is it doing with it? Is it speaking to the local police or to their own social services? Are those social services then sharing that information with others? Quite often you find it has not been shared. So the home authority that sends a child to Rochdale does not have to share that information with us under current legislation.

Q23 Nicola Blackwood: So are you saying that all the children who were sexually exploited in Rochdale were from other authorities?

Councillor Lambert: No.

Q24 Nicola Blackwood: No. So there were some who were from Rochdale authority, which had direct decision making over whether they were placed in care homes in Rochdale, and yet the data and the experiences that they underwent while they were missing within Rochdale were not shared with either the local authority or the police over extended periods of time?

Councillor Lambert: Of the girls who were the victims in this case, one was in a care home. In terms of those known to social services, once the information had become available, I would suggest when the inquiry into the process is concluded, we may find evidence that there was a fear of sharing data and one of the issues-

Q25 Nicola Blackwood: A fear of sharing data between the services?

Councillor Lambert: There is always this fear that if you share data you need a protocol. I don’t know anybody who has been sued for sharing data that has saved somebody, but there is that fear there.

Q26 Nicola Blackwood: So you think there needs to be a change in attitudes about sharing data about children?

Councillor Lambert: We are trying to lead on that.

Jim Taylor: I think there are some issues around a child after they become 18. In these cases, some of the young people were under 18, and then when the trial was coming along, they were over 18. So there are issues around data protection that overlap, particularly with health.

Q27 Nicola Blackwood: As I understand it, when a child is at risk, you are perfectly entitled to share the data about that child

Jim Taylor: Yes.

Q28 Nicola Blackwood: If a child has been going missing for periods of time, sharing data about that child is certainly not in any way breaching that child’s data protection rights, so at what point are we having a problem here?

Jim Taylor: The independent Safeguarding Board is undertaking a thematic review of multi-agency practice, which will include the questions you are asking, so I don’t have answers to those questions at the moment.

Q29 Nicola Blackwood: Yes, but while it is having thematic reviews and we are considering the multi-agency tiered approach to the bureaucratic problems that we are experiencing, children are being abused. I am trying to understand why individuals who are faced with children who are going missing can’t pick up a phone and phone a police station.

Jim Taylor: That is happening, and I have identified the sunrise team, where we have a collocated multi-agency team that meets regularly sharing data and information, sitting around the same desks, and discussing soft intelligence and also hard data about whether a child has been missing or otherwise. So those improvements have been made, and part of the internal review that I have asked for is regarding that that is happening, and that is an improvement on the previous system.

Chair: Thank you. We will pursue this theme with Mr Michael, who has additional questions on data.

Q30 Alun Michael: Indeed, because I am rather shocked by what I have just heard. The sharing of data was an issue in the late 1990s. For that reason, a clause was inserted in the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to make the law clear. The law had already been clear, but that made it explicit on the face of the Bill that the sharing of data for the purpose of preventing crime-and this is one of the most serious of crimes-is a legitimate issue of data sharing. It has to be shared properly and professionally. Could you explain to me why, Mr Taylor, you appear to be unaware of the obligation for sharing data in order to prevent crime?

Jim Taylor: I am not unaware of the obligation. I was trying to answer a question from the other side of the room. There is an obligation to share data. What I was explaining was that when a young person reaches the age of 18, there are clearly at times some issues around data protection, and some agencies feel that they need to look very carefully at the way in which they share data before they do so.

Q31 Alun Michael: There is an issue of properly managing data, but the responsibility to share data for preventing offending, particularly in this sort of sensitive area, is, I suggest to you, Mr Taylor, absolutely clear.

Jim Taylor: I would agree with that.

Q32 Alun Michael: One of the issues that seems to have emerged is the question of whether local authorities should be required to feed data to police forces that cover a wider area. Mr Lambert has already referred to the need to improve practice in terms of local authorities sharing, but would you not agree, Mr Taylor, that if that is an issue, it is an issue of getting the practice to fit with the law?

Jim Taylor: Absolutely. With regard to the terms you have clearly articulated, I do agree about the need and the requirement to do that and that is what agencies in Rochdale and across the country are doing. I particularly refer back to the current multi-agency nature of teams, whereas there used to be a silo approach to these types of activity. I think I explained earlier that practice has been updated since 2009-10, which has made it a lot easier to look at these issues.

Q33 Alun Michael: Both of you-particularly Mr Lambert, I think-have referred to the need for changes in the law. This aspect of the law, it seems to me, is absolutely clear, so could we be clear about what changes in the law are required? I am not sure from the evidence so far.

Councillor Lambert: Perhaps it is best if I go through this one. It is an issue that I have certainly been on in terms of care homes and children’s care since 2006. An early-day motion went through from Jim Dobbin and other MPs on 17 October 2006, and the issue of the care homes was first raised in the House by-

Q34 Chair: Was it drafted by you, Mr Lambert?

Councillor Lambert: The early-day motion was drafted by me, yes.

Q35 Chair: You must remind people then.

Councillor Lambert: It had been previously raised by Ian Austin MP in his maiden speech regarding Dudley, so it has been an ongoing issue.

Q36 Alun Michael: Can we be clear what the legislative change is?

Councillor Lambert: The legislative change is, I think, number one in terms of children coming from a home authority to a receiving authority.

Q37 Alun Michael: Sorry. We have already clarified that the duty of care and the duty of sharing data for the prevention of crime means that that is already something that those authorities ought to do. You have very clear legislative grounding for requiring precisely the information that you are talking about.

Councillor Lambert: Sorry, Mr Michael, I cannot see that the legislation enforces them to do that.

Q38 Alun Michael: Legislation does not enforce; legislation places obligations.

Councillor Lambert: An obligation on them. Where that has not been shared across authorities, we somehow need to toughen that up.

In terms of the data, yes, there should be that presumption in terms of preventing the crime, but beyond the child itself, when you get to those who are perpetrating the crime, we need to have that data shared in terms of licensing for taxis, fast-food takeaways and the night-time economy.

Chair: Thank you. That is very helpful. Can I just say to colleagues that as we do have other witnesses, we need brief questions and, though they are very helpful, slightly briefer answers?

Q39 Bridget Phillipson: We have established that the legislation is clear that sharing information is acceptable in order to protect children. If we accept that everyone should understand that it is fine to share information to prevent crime, is it then a question of social work practice? Do practitioners understand their responsibilities? The law is clear, but do social workers understand that, or are people using this as something convenient to hide behind and not take action?

Councillor Lambert: Can I just say that Mr Taylor, whom your question is for, is new to the authority? He is a new chief executive who walked into this not four weeks ago, and I am new as council leader, but we are determined we will tackle it. In terms of whether people are hiding behind it, I think it is what I said before. There is a genuine fear of sharing the data, and what has been said today will be really helpful, because that can now be used across the services.

Q40 Bridget Phillipson: Is that genuine fear simply because social workers did not want to believe what they were seeing or found it just too difficult, and it was convenient to hide behind apparent legislation rather than act because that gave them a means of not dealing with an issue that is very sensitive and difficult and, frankly, about which often victims-not just child victims-are not believed?

Jim Taylor: I would not agree with that. I don’t think anybody would have used that as an excuse. You talk about social workers not sharing data. This is a multi-agency approach. It is not just social workers; there are police and health colleagues involved. I think the issue with the idea of being proactive with sharing stories-not just data or information-and soft intelligence about young people is that it has been difficult to join those stories together, as opposed to a lack of wishing to share data. So I don’t think that that is exclusively something that social workers would have done.

Q41 Bridget Phillipson: It is just, for example, that with a child in care, you would have regular looked-after reviews, and you would have a social worker acting as a corporate parent for that child. Yes, of course you want all the agencies to work together, but ultimately someone has to take responsibility and failure to share is not-

Jim Taylor: Which is why we are reviewing historically all the cases that we have been dealing with, and no doubt the Safeguarding Board will look at that from a multi-agency perspective as well.

Q42 Chair: How many cases are you reviewing?

Jim Taylor: Within the trial, I understand that there were 47-either witnesses or victims. There were five victims in the trial. The scope of the review, as far as I am concerned, will not only cover those 47, but look at other cases that may have been.

Q43 Chair: Are we talking about hundreds?

Jim Taylor: I couldn’t comment until the review starts, but certainly a minimum of 47.

Chair: A minimum of 47.

Mr Ellis has been waiting very patiently.

Michael Ellis: As I always do, I hope, Mr Chairman. Thank you very much-

Chair: Sorry, Mr Ellis. Ms Blackwood is bursting to ask a question.

Michael Ellis: Not as patient as I might have been.

Chair: I am so sorry. Quickly on this point, and then a quick response, because we have other witnesses.

Q44 Nicola Blackwood: Sorry. I just wanted to follow up on Bridget Phillipson’s question. In between the legislation and the culture of sharing data, there is lots and lots of guidance. I just wonder whether it is the guidance that is getting in the way, whether that is Ofsted guidance, NHS guidance, or police guidance about whether the data should be shared. Do you think that that is the case, and can you identify specific guidance that is getting in the way?

Jim Taylor: I wouldn’t have enough knowledge at the moment to comment on that. However, the deputy Children’s Commissioner is undertaking a review of CSA.

Q45 Michael Ellis: People are frightened about sharing data, aren’t they, because they fear that they will get into trouble-that they will either be prosecuted, or get into administrative or disciplinary difficulty at their place of work in some way? This is reflected in many strata of society now, is it not? Is that not your understanding of how the situation is?

Councillor Lambert: It would certainly be my understanding and view.

Q46 Michael Ellis: Do you think that is due in part to over-regulation in the past 15 years or so?

Jim Taylor: In the case of children’s social work, a number of reviews have taken place, including the latest one, the Munro Review, which looks to give social workers more opportunity to do social work and to reduce bureaucracy and so on. That has been well documented.

Q47 Michael Ellis: Going back to what the Chair raised at the beginning, there is a very valid point about those who have made suggestions about a racial aspect to this particular case-for my part, I do not accept any racial stereotyping. I think that people of all ethnicities, backgrounds and incomes commit these types of wicked offences, and I agree with the sentiments that both of you have expressed. Can I just move on to how you think that social services can work with others to recognise and support victims, and to recognise where victims might be if they are not identifying themselves, such as with schools and other health care professionals such as general practitioners? Might there be ways in which social services can expand their horizons and work with others who might come into contact with young people who might recognise some symptoms of an underlying problem that is not being disclosed by the victim?

Jim Taylor: I think it is about identifying risk to young people and doing so early. There are some early indicators, such as children who perhaps have poor attendance at school, that are risk factors for not only potential child sexual exploitation, but in terms of drugs and alcohol, antisocial behaviour and other aspects that young people will become involved with. I mentioned earlier that we have done an education programme in Rochdale with all the high school children, which went down very well, and some of the independent schools in Rochdale also asked us to do that training. I understand that many of the schools are now building this into their PHSE curriculum, which will be part of the regular curriculum in terms of awareness raising and giving young people confidence to speak out.

Q48 Michael Ellis: That is excellent, but do you think that there ought to be some type of hub? I notice that CEOP have recommended that all local safeguarding children boards should have a multi-agency hub to improve the recognition of abuse in the first place and support for victims, but first of all you have to establish who the victims are and where they are. Do we need to establish these hubs to recognise victims of abuse?

Jim Taylor: I think a good example of a hub is the team that we have set up within Rochdale, which I have referred to a couple of times this morning. That is not exclusive to Rochdale; there are such hubs in other local authorities.

Q49 Michael Ellis: You would recommend that to other areas?

Jim Taylor: Yes, I would.

Councillor Lambert: I would certainly recommend that. The hub that we are building is crucial to the whole understanding and identification, to early identification and therefore to early intervention. I think part of that message has to be a wider openness with the community.

Chair: Thank you very much for giving evidence today. We may write to you again. Our inquiry is not just about Rochdale. We are looking at other areas and the terms of reference that we have agreed today are much wider, but we may come back to you to ask for further information. Thank you very much.

Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Chief Constable Peter Fahy and Detective Chief Superintendent Mary Doyle, Greater Manchester Police, gave evidence.

Q50 Chair: Chief Constable, thank you very much for giving evidence to us again, albeit for the first time on this issue. This must be a huge embarrassment to the Greater Manchester Police force. In response to the cases over the past few years, this first came to your attention four years ago. I think your response or that of your Assistant Chief Constable was, "Things could have been done better".

Chief Constable Fahy: I think we have a very good record in Greater Manchester Police in dealing with vulnerable victims. We have long had operations against things like child prostitution-Operation Messenger in places like Oldham. We have almost eliminated street prostitution from Greater Manchester. We are angry that certain individuals got away with offending longer than we would have liked.

Q51 Chair: But you are not angry with your own organisation? Forty-seven girls who were the vulnerable victims of gangs over a period of four years had come to the police to complain and your response was, "We could have done things better." Lives have been ruined and there seems to be no anger directed at the police officers who have dealt with this case. I find that extraordinary.

Chief Constable Fahy: The thing I would point out is that the officers have investigated this case and brought it to a conviction, and they are investigating lots of other cases. We have said there are things we can learn. We had a lot of focus on victims at the time, and the issue about this case, which has not come out, is the vulnerability of the witnesses-they all tend to be damaged young people. They have lots of things in their background that can be exploited by the court system.

Q52 Chair: But surely they were damaged further by the failure of the police to take action. What I find is that there does not seem to be any contrition before this Committee today over the way in which these matters were handled. You have groups of men who were exploiting young girls over a period of four years until the very long and large articles in The Times, written by Mr Norfolk, brought this to the attention of the public. This seemed to have been just drifting on. We don’t seem to look at our system and see what we did wrong.

Chief Constable Fahy: As I say, I think the fact is that we very quickly got on with the investigations and convicted people in a very difficult case. We are sorry that it took us that long, but what I would say is that you have to put that in the context of the huge amount of work that we are doing as a force and the difficult situation that police officers and prosecutors are often put in, in terms of the credibility of individual witnesses. What happened, particularly at the beginning of this case, was that it was investigated, but a view was taken by the CPS that the victim would not be credible in the court system. I have some sympathy with those prosecutors, because we know even from this case the way in which some of the witnesses were treated by the court system. If your house is burgled, you will not be asked in court if it was your fault because you left the back door open or you left a laptop on the table, but the victims in those sorts of cases-

Q53 Chair: But you can’t possibly compare what happened to these girls to a stolen laptop, surely?

Chief Constable Fahy: No. What I am saying, Chairman, is that the victims in the case-and in all these types of cases; indeed, in all cases of sexual violence against women-are put through a fairly horrendous experience in the court system. Individual prosecutors and police officers, when considering whether to take a case forward, very much have in mind whether this young person is going to be further damaged by appearing as a witness and possibly then feeling they have not been believed by the court system.

Q54 Chair: It is said that the reason why you did not take action was partly because of the race and heritage of the people involved, and that Greater Manchester Police, which has a large number of ethnic minorities living within its area-not just in Rochdale but in other areas-thus feared the reaction of the communities. You could therefore have been much tougher at dealing with this, but you decided not to because of the community tensions that could arise.

Chief Constable Fahy: No, I completely reject that, Chairman. You have questioned me at this Committee about things like stop and search figures and arrest figures, which disproportionally feature Asian and black people. There is no evidence that we have that form of political correctness. I would say that we were focusing so much on victims that perhaps we did not make the links with some of the offenders and their offending behaviour, sometimes across boundaries. We are a lot better at that, but I do come back to the fact that I do not think that what has come out in these sorts of cases is the really difficult situation of damaged children going into the court system and the way they will be treated.

Q55 Chair: Do you disagree with the former Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who said, talking about people of Pakistani heritage, that they "see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care…who they think are easy meat"? The Prime Minister said, "There are particular problems in particular communities. We need to face up to these problems and deal with them". Baroness Warsi, who is herself of Pakistani origin, said "Some Pakistani men see white girls as fair game". The Chief Crown Prosecutor for the north-west, Nazir Afzal, said, "The fact that the perpetrators were Asian and the victims were not should not pass unnoticed". Do you agree with any of these people?

Chief Constable Fahy: What I am saying is that if there is a feeling that there was a reluctance of police action, that was not because of any feeling of fear about community tensions or political correctness. We have said in this type of offending, street grooming, that Asian men do feature disproportionately, but we would also say that has to be put in the context of a whole series of different sexual offences, and violence against women would sadly feature in all communities.

Q56 Chair: Are you saying that their race would be a factor?

Chief Constable Fahy: We are saying that if you look at this type of offence, Asian men feature disproportionately, but I do not think that that necessarily means that race of itself was a factor or culture was a factor. It is a very complex issue.

Q57 Chair: Overall, for those in the Greater Manchester area, I think you gave us figures that only 5% of those on its convicted sex offenders register were Asian males. These are the figures that you have released.

Chief Constable Fahy: That is right.

Q58 Chair: What you saying is that in these particular cases, it was a factor, but maybe not in others-or what are you saying?

Chief Constable Fahy: No, we are saying that there is a whole range of sexual offences and sexual offending. There is grooming on the internet and there are people who clearly rape strangers, and therefore there is a whole range of different offenders on the sexual offenders register. Asian men do not feature disproportionately but, on the other hand, if we look at this particular type of offending around grooming children on the streets, Asian men do feature disproportionately.

Q59 Chair: DCS Doyle, please feel free to interrupt your Chief Constable whenever you want if you have anything to say. Please do not feel because he is here and we are asking him questions that you don’t have anything to say. You may contribute in any way you like.

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: I was about to add that we have taken the view very publicly from the start that there are sections or parts of our community that seem to have problems and issues around child sexual exploitation and the willingness to exploit the vulnerable, but that is not exclusively one of their issues. It is much broader than that. It is quite unhelpful for us when we get hung up on race and culture and not the real aspects and issues of it: men and women who abuse vulnerability both in children and adults.

Q60 Chair: You were involved in the Anuj Bidve case and have been praised by a lot of people for the way in which you found and prosecuted the person responsible. Do you think that things could have been better, as the Chief Constable has said, and that having looked at these cases, with your experience in these matters, there ought to have been earlier prosecutions?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: I think we accept that lessons have been learned, as we have said from a very early point. One of the issues was perhaps one of geography. The collocation you heard Mr Taylor and Mr Lambert allude to earlier of the multi-agency team breaks down some of the barriers and improves not only information and intelligence sharing, but the opportunity of professional challenge. We accept that that perhaps was lacking in the earlier case, when I would have expected to challenge the CPS and issue a decision, but the officer took a view-

Q61 Chair: That didn’t happen?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: That didn’t happen.

Q62 Chair: Looking back again, you wanted to see the prosecutions? Having looked at the papers, you think this should have been challenged?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: Yes. If I had been in that position at the time, I certainly would have felt that a challenge would have been appropriate.

Q63 Mr Winnick: Chief Constable, the accusation made against the police force is quite clear, namely that the allegations were originally not taken at all seriously. Do you challenge that?

Chief Constable Fahy: No, we do know that the allegations were taken seriously, but it is about the credibility of individual witness. What has not come forward in almost all these cases is the fact that sadly, in a lot of cases of sexual offences involving women, the system will try to exploit weaknesses. It will exploit differences in the evidence. It will exploit the facts. You have heard-I still hear commentators talking about it-that women are asking for it because they dress in a particular way. It is those sorts of features, so, as I said, an officer or a prosecutor agonises about how that young person is going to be treated. As Mary Doyle has said, however, in this case, when a prosecutor took a decision that the witness would not be credible in the court system, that should have been challenged and we should have sought another view.

Q64 Mr Winnick: When the first victim was arrested for smashing glass at an Indian restaurant in August 2008, she made allegations about grooming. On video, Chief Constable, it was shown that the police officer who was conducting the interview let out a loud yawn before continuing his questions. The obvious implication was that the officer thought this young female was simply making it all up, so why take it seriously?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think we do know from the papers that the recommendation that went to the Crown Prosecution Service was that there should have been a prosecution and that the victim was believed. Clearly, yawning in an interview is unacceptable in terms of the way we treat victims, but what we do know is that the victim was believed. It is often an issue for the police officers that are dealing with a victim. They believe the victim and they believe that the offences occurred, but when that is in hard evidence for the Crown Prosecution Service, it takes an independent view and believes that the court system and the jury will not believe this particular victim.

Chair: Can we move on after this last question?

Q65 Mr Winnick: Yes. An apology has been given on behalf of the Greater Manchester force. I think it was given, if not by yourself, by Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood-the same name as the community. In giving that apology, it is recognised that the police force did not do what they should have been doing.

Chief Constable Fahy: I think you heard from Mary Doyle that we should have challenged the original decision, but the best way we can show our contrition is through the way in which we are now investigating these offences, the number of cases under investigation and the number of cases that are now pending trial.

Q66 Bridget Phillipson: Finally, on the issue of whether the victim will be believed and are credible-you just said that that decision should have been challenged further with the CPS-is it not sometimes the case that the CPS is too cautious in assuming that the victim may not be credible, whereas if put before a jury, there may be a different conclusion? Sometimes, although it is well intentioned in seeking to protect an already vulnerable person, it can further damage that person if they do not have the opportunity to see their case go to court?

Chief Constable Fahy: Absolutely, but I think, as you say, it is well intentioned and the prosecutor has this awful dilemma. When you already have a damaged young person, are you going to put them in the court system when they may be further damaged by the experience? I think the key issue here that we have to look at is the way in which the court system deals with all victims of sexual violence.

Q67 Bridget Phillipson: The complaints I have sometimes seen are not just that it does not go to court because of the credibility of the victim, but that that is never fully discussed with the victim, meaning that they do not have the opportunity to say, "I know I am going to be attacked and I know it is going to be very difficult, but I want that opportunity regardless." It can live with them for the rest of their lives if they have not had that opportunity to see the case in court, even if it ultimately goes nowhere.

Chief Constable Fahy: I would agree with that, but if the victim is a child, that becomes a more difficult decision in terms of whether the prosecution and the police officer understand the court system and what that person might have to go through more than the young person themselves.

Q68 Nicola Blackwood: We are talking here about the failure of the police to investigate the case that walked in your door and said, "I am a victim," or failure to believe that victim initially, and then a failure by the CPS. But the problem with victims of child sexual exploitation is that a lot of them are groomed from a very young age-about 11 or 12-and most of them don’t really believe that they are victims because they think they are engaging in being an adult or something like that. They go missing, they come back, they do not disclose what is going on and they do not tell anyone what is going on, and they are engaging in wildly risky behaviours and being abused in the most appalling way. How exactly are you going to train your officers to investigate those kinds of victims if you are not getting it right on investigating victims who do disclose?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think the important thing is that we have 400 officers constantly working on issues around children abuse, domestic violence and rape. We have huge numbers of investigations every year. We deal with them very professionally. We have to make very complex investigations, often involving members of family and relatives-those sorts of issues. You are absolutely right that part of the difficulty of the system is accepting that although a young person is, on the face of it, consenting to certain behaviour and to being in a relationship because that adds to their self-worth, that still means they are a victim and the system should take that forward. I think officers are very aware of this issue and the difficulty. They work very closely with social workers and charities such as Barnardo’s absolutely to understand that, but it is then how you translate that into evidence in the court system in a way meaning that you have some confidence that a jury will believe that. Mary, do you want to say anything more?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: Can I just add that it is about building trust and rapport, and trying to understand it from your young person’s point of view? We have certainly learnt though the Rochdale case, with the help of people such as Sheila Taylor of the National Working Group, that it is about investing time in these young people, listening to them and not forcing them to do things they do not want to do. It is not forcing them to make snap decisions, and allowing a relationship to form that is a little bit like the relationship that often forms in homicide between a family liaison officer and a victim’s family. This is having a dedicated, bespoke contact officer, preferably specially trained in sexual offences, who spends time with and invests time in that young person. What we found was that people who were initially unwilling to see themselves as victims, after working with the police, the local authority and the third sector-Barnardo’s in particular-were more willing to, or would, become better at understanding their situation and the riskiness of their behaviours. It requires a considerable investment and that is something that GMP has done in terms of the multi-agency teams-there is not just a multi-agency team at Rochdale. We will invest time in those victims to allow them to go through the decision-making process and to understand what is happening to them.

Q69 Michael Ellis: In the time before I was a Member of Parliament, I was a barrister and I have prosecuted child abuse cases. For my part, I think that police officers are very decent and caring people who are motivated, as one would expect, to get evil people off the streets. That is what I think the vast majority of police officers go into policing to do, and that was certainly my experience as a barrister in criminal courts.

I am particularly interested, Chief Constable, in your comments that seem to be seeking to blame the court system on a failure here, so I want to explore that a bit more if I may. Clearly, you appreciate that it is the duty of the Crown Prosecution Service-whether it be a shoplifting case, a murder case or anything in between-to satisfy itself that two criteria are met before any prosecution is launched. It has to be satisfied, first, that there is a realistic prospect of conviction and, secondly, that it is in the public interest to pursue the prosecution. Where it is not satisfied that there is a realistic prospect of conviction, is it your position that you would seek to challenge that legal analysis and say that in your view and the view of your officers there is a realistic prospect of conviction? Do you think that the Crown Prosecution Service should maintain that as a criterion? Is the alternative not of some concern-that prosecutions will be launched that will necessarily fail and that will therefore have a public cost implication in addition to, of course, the distress for witnesses and others who will go through the proceedings of a trial, potentially to no avail?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think it is your second point. I would not say it is the cost issue. What you have articulated there is the huge dilemma should prosecutions fail, but I would say that the fundamental issue is the way in which victims of sexual offences are treated in the court system compared with the way in which victims of burglary, for instance, are not. I think that is at the heart of this issue, and at the heart of some of the difficult issues about the investigation of rape. Of course, the court system does not sit in isolation. It sits in the context of what is sometimes the attitude in the wider society: women, just because they dress in a particular way, are asking for it.

Q70 Michael Ellis: You use that as an example. I do not think questions like that would be permitted by a judge now in the courts of law, but-

Chief Constable Fahy: They know that the jury may well have those thoughts because those thoughts are often articulated in the media and elsewhere. It is a wider issue of the societal attitude. I am not blaming the court system, but I am saying that we all need to understand the real difficulties of investigating and prosecuting these sorts of offences, and that we all have a wider responsibility to take violence against women more seriously.

Q71 Michael Ellis: Yes. I absolutely agree with the need to do that. I am just interested in an attempt, I think-correct me if I am wrong-by you to transfer responsibility and blame to the legal process, whereas in fact, of course, it is the responsibility of the police to investigate these offences and take them seriously when complaints are made by victims.

Chief Constable Fahy: We totally accept that responsibility. As I have just said, I am not really blaming the court system as such. It is wider societal attitudes. When you look at the awful toll of things like domestic violence and the number of women who are killed by people known to them, we have to say that the system, on the whole, is still not sufficiently protecting women-that is the point I am trying to make.

Q72 Alun Michael: You referred specifically to getting to the point of prosecution and the difficulty of getting a case to court. Would you accept that the first purpose of the police is to prevent offending and reoffending and that, in that sense, prosecution is a means to an end, rather than the end in itself?

Chief Constable Fahy: Yes.

Q73 Alun Michael: Was there a point in the four years after these cases had started to come to your attention that a different approach-accepting that the avenue of prosecution was going to be problematic-was considered as something that the police, the local authority and others ought to invest time and effort in?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think you are pointing to a much wider issue that we would raise, which I think was explored a little bit by our colleagues from Rochdale, which is just about this whole issue about the care system and what we call the problem of runaways.

Q74 Alun Michael: The question I am asking is: was there a point when you said, "Prosecution is not the only instrument for dealing with these issues. We need strategically to take a different approach," because of the difficulties you have outlined in getting it, rightly or wrongly, pursued through the courts?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think we did, and we always will try to work on that child welfare issue, but it comes up against the actual tactics that are available to social workers and the police to try to dissuade this. I think there is a really difficult point about whether, at the point of crisis, social workers and care workers can restrain young people who they believe are vulnerable. I understand that this is a difficult issue, and I do not want to turn children’s homes into prisons, but police officers see situations daily where youngsters are just regularly going missing from care, but they are vulnerable-

Q75 Alun Michael: Yes, but what about an approach that is more proactive in terms of the adult participants.

Chief Constable Fahy: I think you can always try that and there is a lot of work trying to build relationships.

Q76 Alun Michael: Was it tried?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: It has been.

Chief Constable Fahy: It was tried, yes.

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: We have used proactive tactics for a number of years, from 2006 across the Protect team in the city, and Messenger in Oldham in terms of using some of the licensing legislation around some of the locations and the people that might be involved. We have also used the legislation in terms of abduction notices, which is great if the young person is under 14. There are proactive opportunities that we have identified and taken, and that we are building up. We are building around Rochdale and have been since 2010 when this came to light.

Q77 Alun Michael: I would like to pursue this further but I know our time is limited. I think it would be very useful to have a note of the means that were considered other than the prosecution role, because this is a constant-

Chair: Mr Michael’s suggestion is very helpful.

Chief Constable Fahy: We will. I want to make the point, though, that whatever the long-term aims are and whatever good work has been done in the background, at the point of crisis when the care worker or social worker sees that the young person wants to go out and knows that they are going to be either riding in a stolen car or mixing with bad people, there is not a system in place at the moment that allows that care worker-

Q78 Alun Michael: I understand that. The point is that if you have this major problem, which has been identified over a number of years-you have a problem in relation to the evidential aspects for prosecution; you have a problem with youngsters going out-it is clear then that a different strategic approach is needed, is it not?

Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, and we can certainly give you evidence of all those things.

Q79 Mark Reckless: Chief Constable, I was perplexed by Mr Ellis’s line of questioning. He seems to suggest that you were trying to shift the blame to the courts or legal system. I wonder if I can clarify the factual matrix here. Is it the case that Greater Manchester police forwarded a file to the CPS recommending prosecution and that the CPS refused to prosecute, and yet it is Greater Manchester Police who have apologised?

Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, because we think-

Chair: Is that the scenario? Is that what happened?

Chief Constable Fahy: That is the basic scenario, but on the other hand we do feel that our officer and the Detective Inspector involved should have challenged the CPS as to why it was not prosecuting the case, and there is a general issue that we did not do enough to try to link the different offenders and say, "Was there another way of coming at this?"

Q80 Mark Reckless: Who at the CPS was responsible for this decision not to prosecute, and have they been held accountable for that?

Chief Constable Fahy: I think the Chief Prosecutor for the north-west has apologised on behalf of the CPS for the actions-

Chair: We will be having the Chief Crown Prosecutor for the north-west come to give evidence to us. Colleagues, we do have two other witnesses.

Q81 Mr Winnick: I want to be quite clear about a point that my colleagues have raised, including Mr Reckless just a moment ago. The CPS decided not to prosecute-that is not in doubt. It was the wrong decision and it was highly regrettable, am I not right, Chief Constable, that the fact remains that following that CPS decision, the Manchester Police dropped all further investigations into a number of similar allegations-yes or no?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: I cannot say in all honesty whether- I do not think all of them were dropped, but I don’t think they got to a positive point of going back before the CPS.

Q82 Chair: Sorry, is that a yes or no? That was a bit vague. Were the other cases dropped, or were they not dropped?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: They were not dropped immediately as a result. We did not just go, "Stop investigating." We continued to investigate-

Chair: But they were dropped eventually.

DCS Doyle: -but we had had a threshold that we did not think we could get past.

Q83 Mr Winnick: I will put this as my final question to the two witnesses before us. Is it accepted that that was wrong, and that there should have been more diligence in investigating them?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: Yes.

Q84 Mr Winnick: There is no doubt you accept that entirely?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: Absolutely.

Mr Winnick: Thank you very much.

Q85 Chair: Have you taken steps to make sure that this does not happen again?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: Absolutely.

Q86 Alun Michael: Is the fact that there is not an independent complaints process in relation to the Crown Prosecution Service, whereas there is in relation to the police, an issue in regard to some of the difficult decisions that need to be challenged?

Chief Constable Fahy: I don’t know, really. For us, it is about making sure that senior detectives do challenge decisions that investigators do not agree with and that they have enough confidence to do that. I think that is the issue that we addressed, and it is us having a good relationship with the Crown Prosecution Service, and it understanding issues like child sexual exploitation and the dynamics that we face.

Q87 Alun Michael: But at the end of the day, if the relationships don’t result in a change, there is nowhere you can go in terms of a complaint.

Chief Constable Fahy: No, you are absolutely right. Its decision is final, yes.

Q88 Bridget Phillipson: I agree with Alun Michael’s point about some kind of independent oversight of the CPS in terms of a complaints mechanism, but is part of the problem often the way in which these decisions are communicated to victims, and that often there is not a great deal of explanation given either by the police or the CPS as to why cases are not being taken forward? Therefore, without seeking even to complain, they don’t understand why their case is not proceeding?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: I think that is possibly the case and I don’t think it is out of any malice. I think, again, it is well intentioned-trying to avoid making your victim feel worse than they already do. I now proactively encourage victims to challenge CPS decision making and to avail themselves of the opportunity of a face-to-face meeting, rightly or wrongly. I think it is absolutely right; it is their right, and asking the challenging questions will continue.

Q89 Nicola Blackwood: Obviously, there are two sides to a prosecution. One is the credibility of the victim and the other is the credibility of the offender. I wonder if you have learned from the lessons of Lancashire, which I understand is considered to operate some best practice in the way in which it uses section 2 abduction notices to establish a record of bad character on the part of the perpetrator so that claims that they did not know that the victim was under 16 and so on can be undermined by the prosecutor. Do you use that practice in Greater Manchester, and have you done so in this case, in particular?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: We do use it in Greater Manchester. It is very effective, particularly when your victim tells the potential perpetrators that they are in fact 16 or 18, which does happen on a number of occasions. So, yes, we do use the abduction warning notices that make it very clear how old that alleged victim is. We did not use it initially in this case. However, as the case was then reinvestigated and has moved on, we have used abduction warning notices in it. I am looking for it to be rolled out across all the local authority areas within Greater Manchester, most of which now have a multi-agency partnership and properly collocated team of one form or another directly to tackle CSE. It is to improve or to share the good practice and learning that we have learned out of this and out of previous cases with Messenger and Operation Protect in the city. But, yes, we use abduction warning notices frequently.

Q90 Nicola Blackwood: What other available tools are particularly effective to establish bad character or to achieve outcomes in these cases?

Detective Chief Superintendent Doyle: The effective use and sharing of intelligence, as you know, can be used within the bad character as well. We need to improve the way we record our intelligence, particularly intelligence that comes in from our partner agencies, so that we can use it for subsequent bad character. I think we need our officers to be thinking more about this as if they were approaching a homicide, if you see what I mean.

Nicola Blackwood: Not really.

DCS Doyle: To give it the gravitas-the seriousness-that this type of offending deserves, and to start thinking of all those tools that you ordinarily would not use for a lower-level crime or a volume crime.

Q91 Chair: Prior to this, and prior to the publicity that has been received, do you feel that the attitude has not been to treat this type of case with the seriousness that you clearly believe it deserves?

DCS Doyle: I think it has been not to recognise it for what it actually is, to deal with single allegations in isolation, to not make the links particularly with your suspects. It has been very victim-centric, as Mr Fahy said earlier. The focus has been on the victim, and we have missed the links with the suspect or the offenders, and the offending groups that will show it to be child sexual exploitation in this form in its truest sense, rather than isolated cases of sexual assault or rape.

Q92 Nicola Blackwood: Do you think that your officers were shocked by the number of victims who were involved in this case when it became clear?

DCS Doyle: They were absolutely horrified. I think it is fair to say that not only the officers, but the GMP as a whole, were absolutely horrified by it.

Q93 Chair: Finally, Chief Constable, on another matter, some of us were surprised that you did not apply to become the Chief Inspector of Police when the post was advertised. In principle, is there any objection to a non-police officer being appointed to that post? I am not asking you to comment on the candidate, just the principle.

Chief Constable Fahy: No, I personally don’t, but I think we need to see it in the light of all the other changes. I think this would give a big opportunity to the new police professional body and to the voice of police professionalism. I don’t think you can see this just in isolation. I think there are arguments both ways but, as you have heard, I have plenty to do in Greater Manchester.

Q94 Chair: Indeed. In respect of the other matters that you have given evidence to us about before concerning the reductions and the changes in Greater Manchester, are they going according to your plan?

Chief Constable Fahy: Yes, they are. They are very painful for all the people involved-they are big changes-but the force continues to reduce crime and to deal with all sorts of difficult challenges, because whatever their personal concerns, individual officers and members of staff are putting the public first.

Chair: Can I again commend your force on the way in which you took action on the Bidve case? I think everyone concerned was delighted with the fact that the person was apprehended, and the trial is due to start very shortly, so well done. Thank you very much for coming today; we are most grateful.

Examination of Witness

Witness: Peter Davies, Chief Executive, Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, gave evidence.

Q95 Chair: Thank you very much for coming along to give evidence. I know that we have asked you before, but we rearranged your session so that you could be here in person.

Peter Davies: I am grateful to you for doing so.

Q96 Chair: Well, we are always pleased to see you. You have heard the evidence; I won’t repeat what you have heard already. Do you think there needs to be a cultural shift in the way in which the police deal with these cases of child exploitation?

Peter Davies: I don’t think there needs to be a total cultural shift and I do remind people that the number of successful prosecutions that we have seen over the last 12 to 18 months in this particularly complex and difficult area of child sexual exploitation are testament to the ability of the service and the prosecutors to succeed in tackling it.

Q97 Chair: But you heard what Mary Doyle said.

Peter Davies: But, forgive me, I think there are aspects of the culture that will need to change, not just within the police service but wider within the whole array of local partners whose responsibility it is to protect the public, and particularly vulnerable children. That is something we highlighted very clearly last year in the publication of our report.

Q98 Chair: Yes. We will come on to your report in a second. Tell me some practical things that could be done-the cultural shift that Mary Doyle referred to. Give us some quick examples.

Peter Davies: Okay, quick examples: No. 1, share data better between the agencies and be far more open with information about individuals who are potential victims; No. 2, be smarter at identifying the risk factors for what they are and looking beyond the obvious, which may appear to be petty or minor, to what lies behind it, which may be extremely serious; No. 3, get used to communicating about issues like this collectively through vehicles such as multi-agency safeguarding hubs, have a common way of assessing the risk and a common agreed teamwork-based approach to tackling the problems; and finally-if you want a short list-remember it is about focusing on the victims first and about prevention and protecting victims. Although it is technically difficult to secure successful prosecutions, as you have just heard, that is far less of an outcome than preventing the harm in the first place or rescuing a child from the kind of horrific harm that has been done in these and many other cases.

Q99 Chair: Some of the Committee have been in to see the excellent work of CEOP. I would have thought that CEOP is best placed to have a co-ordination role on these issues, but we have heard that the Rochdale cases have gone on for four years. When did you all have sight of what was happening there?

Peter Davies: We are a small centre with, as you know, quite a complex mission. We have taken more of an investment into this particular specific area of child sexploitation over the last 18 months, producing the report I referred to and following up with a number of other events. I think this is one example where lodging ourselves within the National Crime Agency, which has an overall public protection responsibility and the ability to coordinate resources on a national scale, will make us significantly more influential, and rightly so, in managing this. At the present time, co-ordinating the work of 43 police forces in England and Wales alone and the others in Northern Ireland and Scotland and the work of other partners is a matter of negotiation and influencing rather than direction.

Q100 Chair: At the moment it is still not happening. We support your being in the NCA, as you know.

Peter Davies: Of course.

Chair: But our concern is a lot of the experience has built up in Rochdale. We have heard from the chief executive and the leader, and from the Chief Constable. It would be a pity if new networks had to be formed when there is an organisation that has a certain degree of expertise. We know it is online stuff that you are super-good at, but there is not any coordination happening at the moment, is there?

Peter Davies: No, forgive me if my previous answer suggested there wasn’t any coordination. Some of the work we are doing is bringing together practitioners. We had two colleagues from Greater Manchester at an event we held in the week before last, on 29 May, precisely on this issue-a revisit on the issue. We train practitioners; we share good practice. We, along with colleagues in other parts of SOCA, offer specialist support to forces so that they can do a more expert job of this when they maybe have not dealt with it before. There is a whole variety of coordination, good practice sharing and specialist support currently going on. We have a lead role in that, but we are a small organisation with, as you say, a fairly hefty investment in online work as well. The intelligent way to tackle this is to work with other people and understand how many other people are out there with whom we can work in partnership. But there is significant progress in the last 18 months.

Q101 Chair: But officers in Derby who perhaps do not read The Times and did not know about all this-I am not suggesting that nobody reads The Times in Derby-are able to ring you up and say, "By the way, we have heard about this Rochdale case. Is there any good practice that you can tell us about that would help us deal with this issue?"

Peter Davies: Yes. Of course, Derbyshire was for some people the starting point with Operation Retriever. Any force in the country can approach CEOP, or people with whom we work in the UK Human Trafficking Centre, and seek specialist support and advice and get it from us. That is available and we are delivering front-line training and trained specialist practitioners as we speak.

Q102 Chair: Now two quick answers, if I may, before we move on to other members of the Committee, because we will cover your report in more detail. In terms of the number of recommendations that you made and those that have been implemented, how many of the recommendations you made in June 2011 have now been implemented to your satisfaction?

Peter Davies: These fell into certain groups, and if I may just refer to them-I know you want a brief answer, but it is quite hard to answer these briefly. First, about victims, there is a clear intention in the ministerial action plan on CSE to improve the lot of victims in terms of getting front-line support, identification of risk factors and also the experience in court when prosecutions get to that point. In terms of multi-agency working and front-line services, I detect a sea change in awareness and commitment to tackling CSE among local safeguarding children boards, but one can’t be entirely happy until they have all done the steps recommended in the 2009 guidance.

We have discussions with CPS, and I know they take place locally, about how to provide specialist prosecution awareness at every stage, and early support from a prosecutor in the investigation is best practice here. That is improving. In terms of data recording, I think that is still a major challenge. If we send out for data to police forces, it is very difficult to get good quality data back because it is not kept in a nice, easily accessible repository. That is within the police service; multiply that several times by the other key agencies who are involved in this kind of work. There is still work to do there. Across the board, on areas for development, I think that data recording is the area where there is the biggest gap between what we recommended and what is currently taking place.

Q103 Chair: You are talking about intention, awareness, good practice and so on, but I get the feeling-you are being very careful with your language when you talk about challenges-that it is not to your satisfaction and that more does need to be done very rapidly because, of course, the victim-the child-can’t wait for reviews, intentions and awareness. They need help now. If you were marking it all out of 10, what would you give them?

Peter Davies: Who am I marking?

Chair: Those who are supposed to implement.

Peter Davies: If I am marking the whole public sector’s ability to protect children in this area, I would probably give it a five out of 10-six out of 10 for effort; four out of 10 for delivery. That is an improvement on where I would have marked it last year, but you can’t be responsible for child protection in the UK without being painfully aware of the gap between what is provided and what is needed. As you know better than most people, child sexual abuse and exploitation is massively under-recorded, under-reported and not well enough understood. It is a simple fact of everyday life that there is a huge gap. My words are probably chosen to bridge that gap. It is very easy to be critical of practitioners who are dealing with large caseloads.

Q104 Chair: No, but you have been very helpful to the Committee. You have given us a good indication. Can I ask you finally about the issue of race and ethnicity which, of course, has been a feature of the discussions that have been going on? There is one camp, Jack Straw, the Prime Minister- Well, it is not the Prime Minister to that extent, but Jack Straw, Baroness Warsi and others say the fact that they are Asian perpetrators is an issue. There is the other camp from whom we have heard today-the chief executive of Rochdale, the leader of the council and the Chief Constable-who do not say it is a dominant issue. What is your view on this? Is it a distraction or is it an issue?

Peter Davies: I think the point is that it is an issue, but not the issue. You can’t look at these cases and see the prevalence in some gangs and groups of certain types of ethnicity, either among the victims or among the offenders, without being struck by it and asking what that means and how that can be prevented. However, I can also tell you that it is not the issue. When you look behind these groups, you find characteristics shared in common by these offenders and those of completely different paedophile groups. This is about lack of empathy for the victim, justifying it on the basis that the victim asked for it or enjoyed it, the pack mentality and the targeting of victims of opportunity. All these things are common to paedophile groups in the UK, regardless of their ethnicity.

Q105 Chair: So it is a factor?

Peter Davies: In particular communities it may be a factor, but one of the things we must be very careful to do is not to take those cases that we know about and extrapolate across the rest of the UK and assume everything is like that because, apart from anything else, the risk then is that victims have a very narrow view about who the risk comes from, which is not justified, and that in tackling one particular manifestation or one label of this kind of offending, we miss the far deeper, more comprehensive challenge that actually confronts us.

Q106 Chair: Are you saying that it might even lull the victims into a sense that they may not see others who are involved as potential perpetrators?

Peter Davies: There is no doubt. In some parts of the country-I think you will hear this from your next witness-there are threats posed to children by people of all kinds of ethnicity. If the whole story becomes that you have to watch out for what are loosely labelled as British Asians or British Pakistani men, you are possibly blinding potential victims or victims to the risk that is presented by other people. Again, if you are in the business of child protection, you need to be very careful of not doing that.

Q107 Bridget Phillipson: In terms of the sexual exploitation of children online, is that a crime that you think is on the increase?

Peter Davies: Yes, I am afraid it is. We are due to launch a thematic assessment on precisely this issue on Thursday this week. Some of the disturbing conclusions that we come to are that the apparent age of victims in images in circulation is lower, that the seriousness of the abuse that is depicted in the images is increasing, and there are still many, many people in the UK, as there are around the world, who have-"an interest" is the wrong phrase-a perverse habit of accessing, sharing and trading child abuse images. These are scenes of crime, every single one of them. There are opportunities to investigate. There are opportunities to identify and rescue victims. It is still a very serious issue and it is on the increase.

Q108 Bridget Phillipson: In terms of the so-called grooming of children and young people, do you think that is more prevalent in terms of the internet or onstreet grooming?

Peter Davies: I think numerically it is more prevalent on the internet. The number of people who are internet offenders of a level that I would want CEOP to be interested in is far in excess of those involved in what is loosely called street grooming. The internet amplifies, multiplies, distorts and normalises certain types of activity. For fairly obvious reasons, it is possible for a paedophile to groom many, many children over the internet-far more than they could possibly do in a local offline setting-so I think the numbers are much higher.

Q109 Bridget Phillipson: I was interested in your comments about making sure that people understand it is not just one particular type of person or group of people that might carry out child abuse so that victims are not blind to the risks that could be posed by others. Obviously, I accept that on-street grooming and internet offences-whether grooming or the sharing of the abuse of children-is appalling and, as you said, a growing problem in some ways. Do you think that the focus on that might blind victims or wider society to the risks that can often be faced by children either in the home or by people that are known to them, and the fact that it is not just strangers or people-

Peter Davies: You are absolutely right to raise that. All the research suggests that the majority of child sexual abuse is committed in a familial setting. In terms of tackling the overall issue, we must still retain a focus on the familial setting. Clearly, CEOP specialises in certain forms of child sexual exploitation, but we want to tackle the whole problem. I think the online area is a development where there is a need for specialist work, and that is what we do. The street grooming, as some people call it-the group or gang-associated child sexual exploitation-is another area where the awareness is not enough. But you are absolutely right; the overall context is that the majority of child sexual abuse, which is suffered by about one in 20 children under the age of 16, takes place in a familial setting.

Q110 Bridget Phillipson: My concern is that it is sometimes easier to focus on these kinds of types of abuse. Dreadful though they are, it is sometimes easier to understand that a stranger might abuse a child. It is sometimes harder to understand that perhaps a father or a trusted family friend might abuse their own child or a known child.

Peter Davies: You are absolutely right. I agree with you. I think the observation I make is that the online world presents an opportunity to identify people who are abusing in a familial setting as well, but the overall picture of child sexual abuse in the UK is predominantly familial. I think the existence of a place like CEOP and the focus on group and gangassociated CSE is evidence of where the awareness is less high and where there may be a bigger gap between what is provided and what is needed. But we do need to keep that sense of proportion.

Q111 Nicola Blackwood: Mr Davies, we have spoken a little about the problem that the excessive focus on ethnicity might blind victims to risk, but surely one of the problems that has become evident over the last little while has been the blindness of law enforcement, social services and other service providers to the risk factors that victims are exposed to, and also to who the perpetrators are. Do you think that they are exposed to similar risks of blindness by this focus on ethnicity? Secondly, what work is CEOP doing to try to give them a better understanding of the risk factors that are involved in this issue?

Peter Davies: On the first issue, I am not conscious that there is a concern about law enforcement or the other protective services zoning in solely on one particular manifestation of this. Frankly, as a police officer of over 26 years’ service, I think the service long ago left behind the idea of typecasting certain types of offences and offenders. I think the evidence you heard from Peter Fahy and Mary Doyle will have illustrated the depth of understanding you get, so I don’t sense that that is an issue.

On the second issue, yes, a variety of agencies have been not deliberately blind to some risk factors, but perhaps not well enough aware or well enough informed. One of the things that we are doing at the moment is waiting eagerly for the deputy Children’s Commissioner’s report, which is coming out very shortly. When that identifies, as I believe it will, certain really telling risk factors that are indicative of a wider problem, what we will do as a centre, and what I will do as the lead for ACPO on child protection and child abuse investigation, is to make sure that those are distributed across the service and that support is given to people who identify these forms to have somewhere to go with that information, backed up by awareness training and the kind of specialist services that I mentioned before.

Q112 Nicola Blackwood: I note that when you did your thematic review on localised grooming you struggled to get much of a response from local authorities and police authorities.

Peter Davies: Yes.

Q113 Nicola Blackwood: How are you going to ensure that in dispersing this information it reaches the right people and has some kind of an outcome? I know that in sending out guidance it can just go into an inbox somewhere and never be seen again. We need to make sure that this is being effective and protecting children, not just adding to a pile of paper.

Peter Davies: I couldn’t agree more. I think there is a limit to what I can do and I see myself here as part of a wider team of people. The Children’s Minister, Tim Loughton, I think announced this morning a draft for consultation.

Chair: Sorry, who announced it?

Peter Davies: I am sorry. Tim Loughton, the Children’s Minister, announced a reduction in the guidance of Working Together-a needed reduction because the previous document was heavy. However, just to be clear, the 2009 guidance specific to sexual exploitation still stands. As I understand it, he articulated very clearly a determination to empower and put more responsibility on local Safeguarding Children Boards, which are actually the organisations best placed to tackle this at a local level. The material we are providing supports that. I think it is pretty inescapable for people now that this is a serious issue. There is a role for CEOP in providing awareness, influencing the national agenda, providing intelligence products, delivering training or providing information to people to go and put into action, but it would be a mistake for me to take sole responsibility for doing that because the number of agencies involved and the amount of national leadership required is beyond what the chief executive of CEOP can do alone.

Q114 Nicola Blackwood: How does that sit with your opening statement that CEOP under the NCA will have a more directive and coordinating role? That is what you have been saying that you do not have until now.

Peter Davies: Well, how that sits with the NCA is that there are certain features of the emerging design of the NCA that create new opportunities: first, access to a far larger base of operational staff who can be tasked to child sexual exploitation operational activity from within the NCA; and, secondly, through the processes under design, influencing the national tasking process. The final point I will raise, although I could go on far longer, is that in the Bill that will create the NCA, the whole agency will be subject to section 11 of the Children Act 2004, which places a responsibility on it to have regard to the safeguarding of children in all its actions. This is something that police forces have been subject to for some time. It is something that SOCA-and therefore, perversely, CEOP-has not been subject to up until now. I think the way that is embraced by the NCA when it emerges late next year will be very significant in terms of moving this on, but the description I gave of what we can do now is based on the present day, not on the future.

Q115 Michael Ellis: Do you think, Mr Davies, that there are any risk factors that are obviously being missed? Secondly, do you think there are too many agencies working towards the same goal and, therefore, doubling up on work levels? Can it be in some way reduced? Would that be something that you would suggest?

Peter Davies: On the first point, I actually defer to your next witness, because I think the Children’s Commissioner for England, with the inquiry, is best placed to identify the critical risk factors. I think the problem is that we are not short of people theorising about what the risk factors are. In a sense, the debate around ethnicity is an example of people theorising about this and latching on to something. We have to be led by facts. We have to define the problem carefully. I am not ducking the question, but I would rather defer to Sue Berelowitz, who is going to speak to you next. We will be led by what that inquiry identifies as the real risk factors-the things that you can lift out of all the different assumptions and possibly stereotypes that people have as the critical indicative things-and we are going to make sure that practitioners are aware of those.

The second issue is, yes, that the world of child protection is potentially quite a cluttered stage. I think simplifying it to a point can help, but all the players understanding how they fit in with everybody else is equally important. An example of that is how we have made an agreement with the UK Human Trafficking Centre about who does what, in simple terms, but another example is recognising the lead role that local Safeguarding Children Boards have in identifying, understanding and tackling this issue locally, and not assuming so much power, control and influence over it that people somehow lose that fact.

Q116 Mark Reckless: We have heard of problems about information exchange and particularly a reluctance in the public sector-perhaps broadly-to share information because of misplaced concerns about the Data Protection Act. Is there a specific issue in your field in terms of local authorities that have key information through their social services departments sharing that with the police, who will have a responsibility across several local authority areas and are not necessarily able to put the dots together if those local authorities are not sharing the information that they need for those dots?

Peter Davies: If you go to different parts of the country, I think you will find examples of where that seems to be an insurmountable obstacle. You can also go to parts of the country where people have surmounted it very easily and are in a far better place with sharing data. In terms of what the national issues are, I still think culturally, for many practitioners, that data protection equals "don’t share information". I think that is something that has to be got over. It is almost a cultural issue as much as an issue about the legislation. But for as many times as somebody can point to me a place where it does not seem to be able to work, I can point them to places where it does work. The issue is whether it is part of a cultural norm and about relationships at local level, or something more complex.

Q117 Mark Reckless: How can those areas that do not share information more easily become like those areas that do?

Peter Davies: Well, there are some examples of good practice. There are, for example, the multi-agency safeguarding hubs or similar, which are about common sharing of information, common risk assessment and agreeing common plans of action. Those good practice areas have been developed in one or two parts of the country, and good practice is being promulgated, and it has been for some time. Of course, the decision makers here are the local agencies. They have to choose how they deal with this. They have to decide what level of priority they attach to this. If cultural baggage or relationship baggage gets in the way, they have to decide how to manage that. It is very difficult to dictate how that is done from a national perspective.

Q118 Alun Michael: You know that there was a great deal of concern on the part of this Committee about the move into the National Crime Agency. What is your assessment now of the potential benefits and risks of that, both in terms of the arrangements that there will be and the process of transition?

Peter Davies: In terms of the benefits, as the design of the NCA emerges, and it has grown significantly since the last time I was here, it is all good, in the sense that it provides a secure, stable, well-resourced home for CEOP into the future. It provides operational support that is far more accessible than I currently have. That is notwithstanding the fact that we get very good support from the Serious and Organised Crime Agency at present. It gives us an opportunity to be involved in the national tasking process, which is not about issuing orders to police forces, except in extreme circumstances, but about making sure that nationally an overview is taken about the need for public protection and a coordinated set of activity is done. That, in the context of the other fairly seismic changes to the national policing landscape, is the best place for CEOP to be, and I am firmly of that belief.

In terms of the risks, I mentioned to you last time I gave evidence about the six operational principles of the centre, and I think I told you then that we had spent a lot of time getting people to sign up to those. Those are signed up to and hardwired into the design of the NCA and the lodging of CEOP within NCA, and I have no concerns about those.

Q119 Alun Michael: I suppose I would naturally expect a senior police officer to be able to illustrate the way in which things are always for the best in the best of all possible worlds. One of the worries was that the inter-agency element of the working would at least become less important in such a specifically police-oriented organisation. Secondly, there were concerns that were expressed by this Committee that there were very few mentions of either CEOP or of child protection in key Government documents such as Policing in the 21st Century, National Crime Agency Business Case and so on. Are you satisfied that this is now sufficiently high up the agenda for both the Government and for the National Crime Agency in receiving its tasking from Government?

Peter Davies: I get the sense that if I just say I am satisfied, that will not be quite enough for you.

Alun Michael: Well done.

Peter Davies: Thank you. Let me give you a couple of examples. On the first point, which was about partnership working, the way CEOP works in partnership with others is, I think, being seen as a model for how other commands within the NCA should work with partners and how the NCA should position itself in terms of its understanding that protecting the public nationally requires a complex and well-managed set of relationships. I think what I would say is that rather than the NCA being a monolithic, non-listening, nonengaging law enforcement organisation, the design of it is going to look and feel a bit more like CEOP than any of its precursors. Forgive me, I have lost your second part of the question.

Alun Michael: It was in relation to the Government’s view of the priorities.

Peter Davies: Yes, thank you for that. I can see why reading the early documents might have given rise to that concern. If you look at the more recent documents that are coming out and will come out about the NCA, you will see a rather different flavour. First, you will see that the NCA’s mission is primarily about protecting the public and, secondly, that its business is about dealing with serious organised or complex crime, not serious and organised crime as previously defined. This expands the scope of the NCA to embrace an awful lot of what CEOP actually deals with. With that, plus the subjection of the NCA to section 11 of the Children Act 2004 and the obligations it would have under that, I think you will see that the more explicit articulations of how CEOP will work within the NCA and how it will lock in should give you the assurances you need.

Q120 Chair: On the NCA design that you are referring to, you have your little home of CEOP in the NCA village, but most of it is unoccupied at the moment. We have the chief executive there and we have CEOP there, but the final landscape has not been settled, has it? Are you involved in those discussions?

Q121 Chair: You are. How often do they take place?

Peter Davies: They take place on an alarmingly frequent basis-just about every week.

Q122 Chair: You have a weekly meeting about what is going into the NCA?

Peter Davies: It is not a regular, but rarely does a week go by without me being involved in a meeting about the NCA, and I am delighted to be so involved.

Q123 Chair: Of course. You want to know who your neighbours are in the village.

Peter Davies: Well, and I want to help design the layout of the village and not just my own little house, to use your analogy.

Chair: Indeed.

Peter Davies: Our engagement with the NCA design could not be more thorough or at a higher level than what it is. That is how it has always been.

Q124 Chair: In terms of people leaving CEOP, the last time you were here I think you were concerned about the brain drain. Has that now stopped? Are the brains being retained?

Peter Davies: Yes, it has. I think it has reversed, actually. In 2010, more people left CEOP than joined. In 2011, more people joined CEOP than left. By dint of some modernisation work that we have just completed, we are now able to grow the centre to larger than it has ever been before. As I sit here, I have over 20 more people in the centre than I had previously.

Chair: Excellent.

Peter Davies: We are growing, and I will not be happy until we have recruited somebody to every one of those posts.

Q125 Chair: You mentioned your 26 years as a police officer. You were the Chief Constable of Lincolnshire.

Peter Davies: No, I wasn’t. I was the Assistant Chief Constable in Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire.

Q126 Chair: You will know that G4S has just won a contract to design, build and run a police station.

Peter Davies: I am aware of that.

Q127 Chair: I am puzzled as to why the private sector is able to do it better than the public sector as far as policing is concerned in Lincolnshire. This could be an essay sort of question, but a quick answer.

Peter Davies: How much time have I got?

Chair: About 30 seconds.

Peter Davies: Okay. I worked in Lincolnshire for many years. I am very proud of working there. It was, and I believe still is, per head of population, the lowest-funded force in the country and as such it has been the first force to confront some of the austerity issues that many other forces are now experiencing. I know that it has gone through a very difficult time in terms of reorganising and being as lean and efficient as possible. I have not been involved in the decision to contract out, but I understand enough about the force to realise that it would be the first police force to have to take a measure like that if it was its judgement that it was in the best interests of providing a service to the public. That is clearly what it has done, but it has been driven by a funding situation. If I may have 10 more seconds, I think one of the things the private sector can sometimes do that the public sector organisations cannot is invest-invest to save. That might be something that sits behind G4S’s interest in servicing Lincolnshire, and also that of the other large companies that took an interest.

Chair: Indeed. Mr Davies, thank you very much for coming. We are most grateful, and I am sure we will see you again.

Examination of Witness

Witness: Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children’s Commissioner, gave evidence.

Q128 Chair: With great apologies, may I call to the dais the deputy Children’s Commissioner for England? Thank you very much for coming and for sitting so patiently.

Sue Berelowitz: Thank you so much for inviting me.

Q129 Chair: Can I say at the start we know that you are at the start of your inquiry? We know that you do not have conclusions so we understand that your answers are going to be brief-we will try to do the same in our questioning. Can I start with an issue that has been a thread through the whole of the Rochdale cases and a matter of public interest: ethnicity? Is there anything that you have turned up so far that leads you to believe that this is an issue that affects one particular community, or even a part of one particular community?

Sue Berelowitz: Well, thank you for that question. I should say I am nine months into year one, so I can probably say more than you might imagine I might be able to say, because we have so far gathered a lot of evidence. I have done 14 site visits across the country, so I have spoken to hundreds of people in addition to getting a huge amount of evidence. There will be a full report on year one coming out in September.

In terms of ethnicity, it is a very complex issue. What I would say-and I can say this definitively-is that although the figures will come out, the pattern that has been seen in Rochdale, with Operation Retriever and so on, is one particular pattern. I do become concerned when people talk about "Asian men", and I put that in inverted commas really because Asia is a very large continent with very many people living in it of different nationalities. I think some more specificity is required, quite frankly, but it is very clear from the evidence I have gathered that there are many patterns. We are finding patterns in terms of victims, because again it is important to think of the ethnicity of victims, where people are almost exclusively talking about white girls at the moment. I am finding that girls, and indeed sometimes boys, from all ethnic groups are victims. There are different kinds of sexual exploitation taking place. There is both what we are calling group associated as well as gang associated. They have slightly different but sometimes overlapping profiles. Girls from black and minority ethnic groups are definitely victims. They are too often missed out, and if you come to the question of cultural shifts, I will say something about that then. But they are not being properly identified as victims. I am unearthing them through the nature of the conversations I am having with youth offending teams, for example, health agencies, police and local authorities.

Q130 Chair: You do not agree with Baroness Warsi when she says that some Pakistani men see white girls as "fair game", or Jack Straw when he says that with white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care, some Pakistani men believe they are "easy meat"?

Sue Berelowitz: What I am finding, which is not the same as saying that that is not so, is that I regret to say there are parts of every single community-white, Pakistani, Afghan, Traveller, Gypsy and Romany travellers; you name it-who are seeing children as easy access in terms of sexual exploitation. In terms of victims, we are seeing the same kind of profile. I have been to parts of the country where the pattern, because they are largely white areas of the country, is almost exclusively of white males sexually assaulting, in the form of sexual exploitation, white children. I have been to other parts of the country where you get different kinds of patterns. The pattern in relation to gangs in London is again a different one where we are seeing a lot of black and minority ethnic victims and black and minority ethnic perpetrators-because, again, one can think that they are the only gangs around.

Chair: Of course, yes.

Sue Berelowitz: I have been to gang-associated areas in the north of England. I am thinking of one particular estate that is exclusively white, because it is such a racist estate, where there is a very strong and identified pattern of the white males on that estate sexually exploiting the white females on that estate. It is really important to hold all of it in mind.

Q131 Chair: That is very interesting and very important, and we are grateful for that. But this issue, which suddenly has come to the fore partly because of newspaper articles, in particular in The Times, is something that we have neglected in the past, but now that it is out there in front of us, do we simply have to deal with the whole issue of child exploitation in a different way?

Sue Berelowitz: We have to deal with it, yes. I don’t think we have been sufficiently alive to it until now. All I am saying is that we must recognise the breadth of sexual exploitation rather than seeing it as one narrow group, because it is happening everywhere is what I am unearthing.

Chair: Indeed. Let us move on.

Q132 Mr Winnick: Would it be right to say, given your inquiries and the ongoing situation that you are looking into, that the vast majority of Asians are as horrified about what occurred in Rochdale as all decent people are? Is there any evidence to suggest otherwise?

Sue Berelowitz: Interestingly enough, I was talking to a young woman yesterday who has a terrible history of being sexually exploited, and she made that very point to me. The situation in which she was exploited was one in which most, but not all, of the people who were exploiting her were Pakistani males, but there were some white males involved as well. It was interesting that she made the point that she has been living in her local area for many years and she knows more people within the Pakistani community who are horrified at what was done to her than the few who did it to her. Of course, that is the case. All decent people are horrified at what is going on, and there are decent people in every single community.

Q133 Mr Winnick: Where those responsible are white, would it not be right to say just the same-that the overwhelming majority of white people totally condemn it? One should be very careful, should one not, when it comes to ethnic definitions and so on?

Sue Berelowitz: Absolutely. All right-thinking people are horrified about what is going on and it is a small-I think maybe I can put this in a different way. Obviously, I have worked in the children’s world for many, many years. I have spent many years working in the field of child sexual abuse also. I am yet, unfortunately, to encounter any community in which there are not some people who are keen-and actually carrying it out-to abuse children. There are always horrible people within every community who will take every opportunity to hurt children, but they are a minority.

Q134 Mr Winnick: We learned some of what was occurring in other parts of the world when the Committee visited Russia and the Ukraine, so we have no illusions on that. On the sort of horror and sickness that occurred in Rochdale, how far would you say this is happening in other towns and cities in the country?

Sue Berelowitz: Well, what I am uncovering is that the sexual exploitation of children is happening all over the country. As one police officer who was a lead in a very big investigation in a very lovely, leafy, rural part of the country said to me, there is not a town, village or hamlet in which children are not being sexually exploited.

Q135 Mr Winnick: Is that so?

Sue Berelowitz: That was what he said to me.

Q136 Mr Winnick: In all parts of Britain?

Chair: Sorry, who said that?

Sue Berelowitz: It was a police officer in a particular part of the country who was responsible for quite a big investigation. He was aware of a lot of other investigations that were then bubbling up as well. The evidence that has come to the fore during the course of my inquiry is that that unfortunately appears to be the case-that we should start from the assumption that children are being sexually exploited right the way across the country. Certainly, my evidence is that in urban, rural and metropolitan areas, I have hard evidence of children being sexually exploited. It is very sadistic, it is very violent; it is very, very ugly.

Q137 Mr Winnick: As those convicted in Rochdale?

Sue Berelowitz: Yes. There are different models of abuse. I have examples of abuse, gangassociated abuse for example, where I can talk to you about hard evidence of children being contacted by another child over the internet, through social networking sites, and then lured across London to meet what appears to be a friend you have made over the internet. That friend is not there, but eight boys are. They pick the girl up at the station. They take her to the local park and they serially rape her. Then another group of boys come, they take her to another part of the park and she is serially raped again. I wish I could say to you that such things were uncommon, but I am afraid they are quite common. There are parts of London where certainly children expect to have to perform oral sex on line-ups of boys, for up to two hours at a time, from the age of 11. It is part of what is going on in some parts of our country. There are different patterns. We have those kinds of patterns. We have the pattern that came up in Rochdale, but we need to remember that there are many different patterns, and within that scope children are being sexually exploited all over the place.

Q138 Mr Winnick: Obviously one thinks of females first and foremost, like the unfortunate victims in Rochdale, but males as well?

Sue Berelowitz: Yes, definitely. One of the patterns I have picked up-

Mr Winnick: Not the same numbers, presumably?

Sue Berelowitz: No, it does not appear to be in the same numbers. With boys, of course, there is a greater taboo around disclosure, so boys are less likely to come forward. But one of the patterns I have picked up in a number of different cities is of boys who are exploring their sexuality, thinking they may be gay and may be feeling that they have difficulty in doing that in their home town or their home area, and moving to other places where they feel that homosexuality is easier and more acceptable, and then finding that they are homeless and without jobs, so they are going to clubs and exchanging sex for accommodation and being exploited in that kind of context. So, it is happening.

Q139 Alun Michael: Your inquiry is looking at group-associated and gang-associated exploitation. Could you say exactly how you distinguish between these and what are you finding? Is it as you anticipated, or is this a journey?

Sue Berelowitz: Well, it is definitely a journey, because I am definitely learning all the time, as are the inquiry panel members. I will just give you the definitions. Would it be helpful to give you the definitions we are working to? The definition of a gang is taken from two sources. It is from Professor John Pitts, who is the lead in this area, and the definition used by the Centre for Social Justice. Our definition of a gang is a group of males, usually aged between 13 and about 25, with criminal intent and with some kind of identifiable marker, either clothing or territory, and usually a combination of those. In relation to a group, we are talking about a looser association, again largely of males, but not always in either context, of any age. I am finding group-associated sexual exploitation with boys as well as with men, so it could be any age. The youngest I have found is about the age of 14 but it is up, of course, to 60, 70-whatever age you want to go to, really. The connections between them may be quite tenuous, or they may be very strong and concrete. Anything from people being connected just through their use of shared internet sites, or using the same shish shops, barber shops or pizza takeaways to access victims, or using the same taxis for the transportation of victims, right through to situations where you have somebody at the head of a sort of pyramid organising victims and having them transported to hotels or other premises, and who may have somebody outside the door taking the money with people coming in to serially rape them.

There is quite a breadth to both, but the difference is the nature of the organisation, and gangs in this context are something quite specific.

Q140 Alun Michael: You referred to exploitation in terms of finance. To what extent is this a business proposition as distinct from merely-sorry, "merely" is not the right word-a narrower set of motivations?

Sue Berelowitz: Again, I think that varies. The definition of exploitation is that somebody is making some gain out of this. It is not always financial gain. Certainly, there have been some cases in the country where it has been difficult to see what the motivation is. What I can say is that the evidence I am gathering is that there is always a motivation in terms of power and control. Whether it is about young boys, whether it is about older men or whether it is gang or group-associated, you are talking about power and control. Money may change hands or not as the case may be.

Q141 Bridget Phillipson: You have talked a little bit about this already, but could you just explain further what evidence you have seen about the role of the internet in facilitating or allowing this kind of abuse to happen?

Sue Berelowitz: A number of examples come to mind, if I can give you some real cases to illustrate. One shocking case, which I am afraid turns out again not to be as unusual as I would have hoped, was of a very, very young girl being serially raped over a series of days by a group of boys aged 14 to 15. I have this from reading the police files. What is known is that they were being summoned through the use of BBM. Boys were being called while some were raping the girl, "Come, come, come, you can join in too", and they were arriving and elbowing each other out the way to rape her. It went on for several days.

There are other examples of where social networking sites such as Facebook are being used by males to access children. One police force showed me a list of girls that had been found on the computer of one man in his 40s. He was masquerading as a boy, and over 1,000 girls aged between about 12 and 14 were his friends. That same police force talked me through some sites they had gone in and, in terms of trying to identify what was going on, they had pretended to be a young girl. Within minutes they had adult men who were masturbating on them in response to what they had put out on to the site. It is quite clear. I can give you other examples, but we have gathered quite a lot of evidence to show that actually there is no doubt that social networking sites can be a source of real problem for this.

I would also add the issue around pornography. Again, I know people differ in their views of this, but the evidence we have been gathering is that pornography is definitely having an impact. Young people are accessing very extreme pornography; there is no question about that. We have had boys say to us-some of the boys I have spoken to who have been involved in sexual exploitation-"It was like being in a porn movie." They have watched things and then they have enacted them. I am extremely concerned about what is going on in terms of pornography. Parents may think that they can control what is going on because they can have a blockage on a computer, but the reality is children can get anything they like on their mobile phones, and they are.

The other thing, of course, that one has to say in this context is they are sometimes filming the victim. Girls are making themselves vulnerable by filming themselves in compromising positions and sending that around. They have no control over where it goes. We have found instances where the use of a film made of somebody being abused is a way of threatening them and holding them, keeping them entrapped. I have also found one instance where we had a situation of gangassociated sexual exploitation, but behind that there was a group of adult men who were using the young boys as the front line for the sexual exploitation. They had made two of the boys of 16 have sex with each other. They had filmed those boys having sex with each other and that was a way of then controlling the boys as well as the girls, who were at the end of the line, really.

Q142 Bridget Phillipson: I am pleased that you mentioned pornography, because I think that there is increasingly an issue with the kinds of extreme and degrading pornography that young people are exposed to and how that shapes their views, particularly those towards women and how you treat and regard women. What are your views around the proposals that we have seen in terms of restricting access to pornography and the work on the optin in terms of internet service providers?

Sue Berelowitz: Well, I think it is a start. The difficulty is that it does not go far enough. I will be looking into this more in year two, but what I am not sure about is what can go far enough. You can do things when people are buying new sets or a new computer, but most people have computers in their homes already. There is the issue about mobile phones. Children are just using them out there all the time. I am beginning to think that the best way to deal with this, short of whatever the Government can do around getting pornographers to stop what they are doing, is to build resilience in children. You are quite right; it is definitely affecting children’s thresholds of what they think is normal. There is no doubt.

Q143 Nicola Blackwood: You are describing a set of victims who are subject to the most appalling abuses. If they admit that they are victims, they are subject to extreme levels of control. We have heard from local authorities that they are trying to improve their responses to victims and their identification of victims. We have heard from police authorities that they believe the victims, but you have been actually speaking to these victims. Can you tell us do you think that these victims up and down the country feel like they can disclose to authorities and police at this point, or is there a problem with that?

Sue Berelowitz: The picture is inevitably variable. What I would say, though, is that while a start has been made, we have a lot further to go. I heard you talking to Peter Davies about cultural shifts. There is still too much of a culture of blaming children and seeing them as promiscuous. The language that I still sometimes hear is of children being prostitutes, instead of recognising that these are children who are being sexually exploited. The effect of that is that the professionals are less likely to take the children seriously. I was talking to this young woman yesterday-she is by no means an exception-who was telling me how she had tried to tell and people had not listened. They had not believed her because her story was not always consistent. She said sometimes she was drugged and sometimes she was very drunk, and she was not always aware of exactly what was going on. She recognises that her stories were not always consistent, but as a result she was not always believed. I think we have to recognise that what is being done is so terrible that people need to lay aside their denial-because it is a natural human response to want to say, "This is so awful I can’t believe it is actually happening"-and face up to the fact that some truly terrible things are being done.

I was talking to a young woman who was being abducted on a regular basis and was held for days at a time, sometimes more than a week, with no food, very little water and no access to washing facilities. She said she would come out filthy, covered in sores and ill, and when she went back to the place where she was living and her school, nobody was asking questions. People were not picking up what was going on. Professionals across all agencies do need to wake up to what is going on. It goes back to the question right at the beginning about ethnicity in a sense and waking up to the fact that there are a multiple number of patterns. For example, I was at one large metropolitan area where-this is a joint police and local authority CSE unit, a very good unit doing really good work-they gave me a fabulous pack of evidence on girls in care who were known to be being sexually exploited-all white girls, all in care. I then asked about girls not in care and girls of other ethnicities, and the response was, "We’re not looking for them".

Q144 Nicola Blackwood: Are there specific examples, either structurally or culturally, that you would recommend should be put in place in other parts of the country to address this particular problem of victims being believed by agencies and the police?

Sue Berelowitz: We are gathering data on the indicator set at the moment and the evidence on that will come out in September. We are doing some modelling on what are the most worrying indicator sets that should lead people to be suspicious or concerned about sexual exploitation taking place. That will come out in September. Once we have that, we will be in a much stronger position to say to people, "If a child has these indicators, you must be proactive, not wait for them to disclose," because that is the other thing-people wait for children to disclose and, of course, they don’t just walk into a classroom and say, "By the way," or walk into a homeless hostel where they have been placed to say, "By the way, I am being sexually exploited." They give cues, and the professionals need to be proactive in looking and then on picking up the cues. Putting out the indicator set with some hard evidence will, I hope, take this forward.

Q145 Chair: That is very helpful. In conclusion, I know it is difficult for you, but if you were talking about numbers, what would we be talking about?

Sue Berelowitz: I think it would be unwise for me to try to put a figure to it.

Q146 Chair: But this goes beyond the hundreds, does it?

Sue Berelowitz: We are talking about thousands.

Q147 Chair: Thousands?

Sue Berelowitz: But I do not want to start saying how many numbers of thousands.

Chair: Of course.

Sue Berelowitz: I will be able to say something much more specific in September, but we are talking about a big problem.

Q148 Mr Winnick: In every part of the country.

Chair: In every part of the country, as Mr Winnick says.

Sue Berelowitz: Yes.

Q149 Chair: When we started this inquiry, it was to look at what was happening in Rochdale, but what you have described today is the tip of an iceberg.

Sue Berelowitz: It is.

Chair: The Committee is certainly very shocked by some of the things that you have told us. We commend you for your work. We want you to continue it. We can only do part of this work. You have an extensive study into what is going on over a period of time. But could I ask you to do this, because we are going to have other hearings connected with the subject: if there are some easy wins that you think could be implemented immediately-it goes back to Ms Blackwood’s point about reviews and inquiries taking a long time, but people, young girls, are immediately at risk-please will you contact the Committee and tell us what you think they are? We will then take them up, write to Ministers and make sure that something happens about it. But please continue with your work and please continue to keep us informed.

Sue Berelowitz: Thank you, and thank you for that invitation. I will take you up on it.

Chair: We will continue with other hearings as a result of what we have heard today.

Sue Berelowitz: Thank you so much.

Chair: Thank you very much. That concludes this inquiry for today.

Prepared 11th June 2013