Rochdale grooming gang jailed as debate over role of race rages
Case raises uncomfortable questions as it emerges police feared racism accusations for pursuing Asian gang
THE NINE men convicted of being part of a child exploitation gang have been sentenced at Liverpool Crown Court to prison terms ranging from four to 19 years. The case has led to criticism of the police and social services - and the role of race in the horrific affair has proved divisive.
Police and social workers have been accused of failing to investigate the gang when a victim first came forward four years ago for fear of being perceived as racist, allowing the men - all of whom are of Asian descent - to prey on up to 50 young girls, The Daily Telegraph reports. Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood acknowledged that officers could have dealt with the case "better than we did".
The BBC reports that Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Muslim youth-focussed Ramadhan Foundation, accused Pakistani community elders of "burying their heads in the sand" on the issue of on-street grooming. "There is a significant problem for the British Pakistani community," he said.
"There should be no silence in addressing the issue of race as this is central to the actions of these criminals," he continued. "They think that white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused without a second thought; it is this sort of behaviour that is bringing shame on our community."
However, Keith Vaz, a Labour MP who is chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, says race is not an issue in the case. The Daily Telegraph reports that Vaz agreed the offences committed by the gang were "absolutely appalling", but he added: "Right at the start of this trial the BNP were outside demonstrating saying that this was a race issue. I do not believe it is a race issue.
"What we need to do is to have a proper far-reaching, thorough investigation into these crimes and causes of these crimes," he continued. "There are a lot of questions about the way in which organisations that have care of young girls have dealt with them and allowed them to be put into these positions."
Martin Narey, former chief executive of children's charity Barnardo's, said there was "troubling evidence" that Asians were "overwhelmingly represented" in prosecutions for street grooming and trafficking of girls in towns such as Derby, Leeds, Blackpool, Blackburn, Oldham and Rochdale.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "That is not to condemn a whole community. Most Asians would absolutely abhor what we have seen in the last few days in the Rochdale trial."
Nazir Afzal, the chief prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service in the North West, reversed the original decision not to prosecute two members of the gang in 2009-2010. His team has dealt with a number of Asian-led grooming gangs in the past, and there are two more trials scheduled for later in the year.
Speaking to The Daily Telegraph about the Liverpool defendants, he said: "These men are not defined by their race; they are defined by their attitude to young girls. They almost feel they have a right to control these young girls because no one else will. But they do it for their own nefarious purposes. These poor girls are evil prey for evil men."