Home affairs - Minutes of EvidenceHC 68

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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Home Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 29 January 2013

Members present:

Keith Vaz (Chair)

Mr James Clappison

Michael Ellis

Lorraine Fullbrook

Dr Julian Huppert

Bridget Phillipson

Mark Reckless

Mr David Winnick


Examination of Witnesses

Witnesses: Ann Cryer, former Member of Parliament for Keighley, and Kris Hopkins MP, Member of Parliament for Keighley, gave evidence.

Q799 Chair: Mrs Cryer, welcome back. Thank you very much for coming to give evidence to the Committee. We have also invited Mr Hopkins at short notice to join you, since he is your successor, to see whether anything has changed since you last raised this very important issue. For you, the recent articles, indeed the inquiry by this Select Committee and the general interest of so many, including the Deputy Children’s Commissioner and others, must be almost a total vindication of what you have been saying to Parliament and to the public since you first raised this issue, in this Committee and outside Parliament in 2003. Are you glad that everyone has now seen the light and understands the big issues?

Ann Cryer: Yes. I have mixed emotions because, yes, I am pleased people are recognising that what I was saying was right, but I am also very upset that after all these years-12 years, 11 years; I am not sure-we are still getting these cases. They are coming in fast and furious at the moment in various towns and cities, even Oxford, but certainly in the north. I thought when I raised these cases with Bradford and West Yorkshire and young men were sent down that that was an end to it. I thought, "A shot across the bows: we will not hear any more of this; it will be finished", and here we are again.

Q800 Chair: Do you think that therefore this is now on the increase, or do you think that the numbers have been stabilised? Because we have had figures, as you know, from the Deputy Children’s Commissioner that show that in her view there were 16,500 children who were at risk and 2,409 had been sexually exploited over a 14-month period, which sounds to us to be phenomenally high figures.

Ann Cryer: Yes.

Chair: Do you see this increasing since you first raised it, or is it now stabilised and on the decrease?

Ann Cryer: It would appear to be on the increase, but I am only going by what I have read about what you are doing and what the papers are talking about. Are we dealing separately with the online grooming, which is quite separate?

Chair: We are not. You can certainly bring that in as well.

Ann Cryer: Yes, because the two are quite separate areas. I understand there are far more kids being groomed via online than the sort of cases that I dealt with, with the Pakistani community in Keighley. I think it is horses for courses, and I think we should be dealing with them both separately, but they should be both dealt with. We must not turn our back on it.

Q801 Chair: No, but if you were to look back at when you first raised it and what we have uncovered since then in all the various inquiries, if you were to pinpoint an agency, was it the police or the CPS or local councils that failed to act? We have established that in different areas it is different agencies, but which in particular would you like to say was responsible?

Ann Cryer: I would not like to say. The saddest thing is-and I think this is what we are learning-that there has to be in this sort of thing inter-agency working, and that was not happening then. Now, the West Yorkshire Police, Bradford local authority, social services, schools, hospitals even-because abortions were taking place-none of them were working together. None of them were giving information, and I feel pretty convinced that at that time there was a fear of being called racist because it came just after the Stephen Lawrence-

Q802 Chair: We will come on to that in a second. Mr Hopkins, thank you for giving evidence at such short notice. You have succeeded Mrs Cryer as the Member of Parliament for Keighley. Do you still see these cases either come into your constituency, or do you have evidence of it still continuing in your constituency and in the area?

Kris Hopkins: First, I pay credit to Ann’s work: she went in pursuit of those individuals and much of the work and much of the lid being taken off this issue is down to Ann’s absolutely rigorous pursuit of it, and I would just like to put that on record.

Ann Cryer: Thank you.

Kris Hopkins: There was a question about whether it is increasing, and I think to some degree it is highlighted and people are having confidence about coming forward because the police are going in pursuit of people. It is very difficult to measure whether there is an increase or decrease, but, to give you an idea of the scale, across Bradford district at this moment in time 30 people have been arrested in the last two months. There are ongoing cases. There is a very detailed ongoing investigation. On agencies working together, I have absolutely no doubt at all that the police, certainly the police who work in my area-I will just name-check Chief Superintendent Angela Williams and her team-know what is expected by the law and know what is expected from politicians as well. There is no political correctness; I do not disagree with Ann, by the way. We and other leaders in the district want the perpetrators of this vile activity brought to justice.

Q803 Michael Ellis: Can we just explore this issue of race? Mrs Cryer, when you spoke out in 2003 and you discussed the issue of localised grooming, I think you just said in an answer to the Chairman that there was a concern that you might be called racist. Could you elaborate on that a little?

Ann Cryer: I did not have a terrific concern, because if I had had a terrific concern about being called a racist, I probably would not have done it, but I did not allow it to get in my way. It would have got in my way of taking care of and doing right by some very vulnerable and very young girls. I am talking about girls aged 11 to 13, and it was in 2002 when the mothers came to me. But I got the impression it just did not make sense, the lack of activity, particularly by Bradford social services and West Yorkshire Police, so I formed the opinion that they were terrified about being called racist. I have three children who are half-Indian, three grandchildren, and another grandchild who is half-African. Yes, it would have upset me if anyone had called me a racist, but I was not going to let that get in the way of protecting children who were not much different in age to some of my grandchildren.

Q804 Michael Ellis: That is very courageous, and I commend you for that. Do you think that the issue was overshadowed at the time by race when it came into the public domain?

Ann Cryer: I think you would have to go back a little earlier than that. There was the Stephen Lawrence case, and Doreen Lawrence was so brave in raising these issues. The police were being accused of being politically correct-sorry, of not being politically correct but keeping quiet about the Lawrence case. If you remember, it took years before anyone was brought to court.

Michael Ellis: Mrs Lawrence did a wonderful job in bringing it to its fruition.

Ann Cryer: Yes. She was the other side of the sort of thing I was doing, and I really admired her for it. Therefore, I can to a certain extent understand the reluctance of social services and West Yorkshire Police in being worried that they were going to get really given a very hard time if they started to raise this question of grooming.

Q805 Michael Ellis: Can I just ask you about the way that the matter has been dealt with more recently? One might argue that the renewed focus on localised grooming is down to a series of articles in The Times. Does it concern you that it seems to have to come through the media in that way and the media can talk about these issues in a frank manner? Do you think that there is an element of caution still from other quarters about bringing these matters to public attention?

Ann Cryer: The Times has been very exercised in talking about these things and doing articles. I am a well-meaning Guardian reader-

Michael Ellis: Someone has to be.

Ann Cryer: By and large, it is the only paper I read much of the time.

Michael Ellis: But The Times did some very good work on this subject.

Ann Cryer: Yes, it did, and they were not too worried about being called politically incorrect. The Guardian I think does have anxieties about that, and therefore I think it is a shame, in my view, that when I was arguing these points 11, 12 years ago that I did not get support from papers like The Guardian. They have changed. They are doing it now. They have had some excellent reports on the girl who was killed by her parents-I think that was in Warrington-and the case of the Rochdale nine. They have done some excellent reports in The Guardian. I cannot fault it for that, it has just taken a long time to get there.

Q806 Michael Ellis: Mr Hopkins, do you think the concerns are the same today as they were 10 years ago or not?

Kris Hopkins: I think the response is quite telling. When I recently spoke out about this, I had all the people who did not like what I said from the Pakistani community and all the people who did like what I said from the white community. There are lots of reasons for that. Some of it was, as I think Ann said, my clumsy language that was used at the time. That could have been part of the reasoning. There are two elements to the communities that I represent. One is the white community, which needs confidence that something is being done and the victims and the children, the families, as well as the wider community, and the other bit is the other community coming to terms with what is happening inside their community. That is very, very difficult for them, and I genuinely feel deeply sorry for the vast majority of very good people in that community.

Q807 Chair: You are very clear, Mr Hopkins, you think this is the British Pakistani community who are targeting young, white girls? Are you clear on that, or-

Kris Hopkins: That is what I have said in the House and I am sticking by that. I think as court cases come forward, people will be able to make their own judgments.

Q808 Chair: Mrs Cryer, you were quoted on 6 January in The Times of actually referring to the community. You said, "Young girls in short skirts and skimpy tops are seen as easy meat by some Asian men". You specifically refer to the village of Mirpur. Presumably you also believe this is one particular community that is involved in this targeting another.

Ann Cryer: It is the only community I know, because nearly all the Pakistanis in Keighley-there are a handful of Bangladeshis as well-about 20% of the electorate is from Mirpur. Therefore, the mothers who were coming to see me 12 years ago about their daughters being groomed and exploited-it was all by Mirpuri young men. It was very, very difficult, because the BNP was in the ascendant at that time and I was scared stiff that these mothers who were coming to me may well be sympathetic to the BNP.

Chair: Of course. There are always political judgments to be made, but you are very clear on the origins. I am going to bring in Mr Clappison and Mr Winnick now.

Q809 Mr Clappison: I can remember from 10 or 12 years ago when Mrs Cryer was raising these matters they were not as readily received at that time. There had to be a certain amount of effort, which Mrs Cryer deserves a great deal of credit for, in having the courage to put these matters into the public domain. I think it is fair to say from what the Committee has heard in recent times that there is a lot of variability in reactions to this up and down the country. Some places, such as Bradford, Mr Hopkins tells us, are taking this more seriously. In other places, we are not seeing as much action. What do you think is the cure for that if we think of places that are not a million miles away from Bradford and Keighley that we have heard evidence about.

Ann Cryer: You are asking me?

Mr Clappison: Yes. It is the same pattern of behaviour, broadly.

Ann Cryer: I think to this day there is a certain misunderstanding within the Mirpuri community. I think because they take great pride in their girls and how their girls are very careful in the way they dress and are always covered in some way, then they see the other side of the situation in white girls as young as 12 or 13, where their cleavage is almost meeting the hemline. I do not think these lads understand that this is just part and parcel of fashion. It is these young girls following fashion. It is not that they are throwing out an invitation to them. I think somebody somewhere needs to get that over to them: that there is a misunderstanding. This is not what these girls are about; they are not asking for it, as they say. They are just following fashion. They are dressing in the same way that their friends dress. It is a difficult-

Q810 Chair: Who should get that message out to them that this is not an invitation? Who should do it: the parents, the community, Government, the local authority, the police? Who should send out this message?

Ann Cryer: All of them. Particularly the schools, I think. I think particularly schools could be very useful, but also the possibly non-elected leaders of the community, the leaders at the mosque, the gatekeepers and so on. They all have a role to play in this, in explaining to these young men that they have it wrong.

Q811 Mr Winnick: Those who are involved in such activities are degenerate and criminal elements, and the sooner they face justice-some have already fortunately faced justice-are brought to court and dealt with, the better it will be for all concerned. But I want to ask you this question, and also Mr Hopkins, insofar as the culprits in the cases that have been publicised are of Asian origin, would you accept that the overwhelming majority of people in the Asian community would look upon the activities that I have just described as being outright criminal and vile, with the same horror as we do? Would you agree with that, Ms Cryer?

Ann Cryer: Yes, I think they do, because this subject is coming up again and again; people are talking to me about it. It might be taxi drivers, or it may be just friends of mine in the Asian community; they just hate it.

Mr Winnick: The Asian community at large?

Ann Cryer: The Asian community just hate it because it is bringing shame on their communities, their Mirpuri community. It is bringing shame on them, and they are very embarrassed about it. They regard these young men as being completely beyond the pale, completely beyond their community. I think it is unfortunate that perhaps they are also thinking that they are beyond their influence. I wish they would not think that. I wish they would take it as a challenge.

Q812 Mr Winnick: Just in the same way that if the culprits were white, that would be the reaction of white people. If the culprits were Jewish, that would be the reaction of Jews and so on. You accept that?

Ann Cryer: Yes.

Mr Winnick: Mr Hopkins?

Kris Hopkins: I agree, and I think Ann talked about the shame that people feel as a consequence of people raising this issue. It is a very emotive and powerful thing to feel, but that does not mean that people should not face up to the issues. Just to comment on what Mr Clappison said, I think that all those people in those agencies have a responsibility to address some of this. But I think the most powerful voices within there-or they need to be the most powerful voices-will be women in those communities, so the mums, grandmas, future mums, the girls in those families need to be empowered. I have to say my only real question mark is around the current leadership, the gatekeepers and the self-elected individuals. You know, they are good people; they are trying to do it. They are trying to do the right thing, but I am not quite sure if they connect with them. An example would be that a while ago I challenged a local community around education. I said to them, "What are the mosques doing about education?" The mosque elders called me and they said, "Kris, you are deluding yourself. We probably only connect with about 25% of the populace." Sometimes we look at the wrong people to solve the problem, and I have done that as well.

Q813 Chair: Who should be sending that message?

Kris Hopkins: The piece of work which I am going on at the moment-I spoke to the Home Secretary, I am going to see Eric Pickles––is about trying get women empowered in that community, young leaders, to really become the voice of that community and really become the challenge to the behaviour of men.

Q814 Mr Clappison: I think that is a very good point. Ann Cryer, when you have been dealing with this issue, and you have dealt with officialdom and agencies who were dealing with these cases, did you find that any assumptions were made about the victims, about their character? Were any particular assumptions made about them at all?

Ann Cryer: No. I think it has been happening since then. A lot of the stuff I have read about-I think that is definitely the case that they have been regarded by the agencies as being unreliable witnesses and so on. But certainly at the time I was taking it on it was a bit different, because all the girls that I was dealing with-it was their mothers who came to me. In other words, they were not in care. They were still living at home with parents, and it was their mothers who came to see me. Eight in all came to see me, and we battled through. It was very good of them to go on with it, because clearly if it had got out in any community, it would have been very, very embarrassing for them. But they struggled on. We got two minor changes in the law that meant that going to court and getting prosecutions would be easier and it was partly their ideas that brought that about. David Blunkett was Home Secretary at that time.

Q815 Chair: If the Committee went out one evening in Keighley, would we be able to see the kinds of scenes that we have been told about in places like Rochdale and Rotherham, with young men, or even older men, being surrounded by young white women? Is that what we would see? Where does this happen: out in the open, or is this in the shadows, hidden? Have you seen it yourself?

Kris Hopkins: What I was going to say was I do not want to comment. The reason why I do not want to comment is that I think there is lots of evidence about to come in certain court cases at the moment, and I do not want to prejudice those cases. I want the evidence to be heard in court and people to have a proper judicial system in which to be heard. I am just going to refrain, with respect, from commenting on that.

Q816 Chair: Sure. Ms Cryer, would we be able to see this in parts of the country if we went to have a look or is this in the shadows?

Ann Cryer: I never saw anything. When the mothers came to see me and told me about what was going on with their girls, it was an absolute shock to me. I had no idea it was going on. I had been the MP for over three years then, and I didn’t know a thing. Then once it got publicity, I started to get good friends either in the Asian community or who were in the caring professions coming to me and saying, "Didn’t you know this was happening?" I said, "No, because you did not tell me." It was one of those things that was not talked about much. As I say, these women, these mothers, were very brave, and eventually one of the reasons we were able to go to court with some evidence that had been stopped before was they started to allow hearsay evidence in certain cases; not in every case, but in this sort of case hearsay evidence was admissible because of the campaigning of these women, with my support and with David Blunkett’s support.

Chair: Ms Cryer, Mr Hopkins, these are obviously very difficult local issues for you, and you have both spoken up very bravely on these issues in support of the victims, those who are the most vulnerable. On behalf of the whole Committee I thank you for the good work that you are doing. If you have further evidence to give to us, we have not concluded our inquiry so please do not hesitate to let us have it in writing or speak to one of the members of the Committee. We would be most grateful to receive it. Thank you very much for coming.

Prepared 11th June 2013