Bradford Council resists calls for child grooming inquiry

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This is a piece first written for the police whistleblowers website, uPSD, in early 2013. It was, in fact, last updated on 20th March 2013 according to the log. Events have, of course, massively overtaken what was reported back then, writes Neil Wilby.

“One of the most highly emotive policing subjects over the past few years has been the shocking, and unchecked, grooming of underage children by Asian gangs. The most highly publicised and nationally-known cases feature areas close to the West Yorkshire border. Rochdale and Rotherham, of course.

“Much less publicised is the manner in which West Yorkshire Police have sought to keep the lid on child grooming in Bradford and Keighley. The issue first came into the light as far back as 2004 with the production of a Channel 4 documentary called “Edge of the City“.

“WYP, whose obsession with avoiding reputational damage outscores almost every other police force in the UK, and terrified of a repeat of the infamous 2001 Bradford riots, had turned a blind eye to this sexploitation for many years. After the Edge of the City programme they took some limited action, largely as a public relations exercise, but soon disbanded their so-called special investigation unit, Operation Parsonage. It had a very limited success rate, due to a mixture of a ‘softly-softly’ approach and the routine West Yorkshire Police ineptitude. Successful prosecutions from Parsonage could be counted on one hand.

“There is, of course, the troubling and parallel issue of paedophiles operating within West Yorkshire Police. More so, it appears, than in any other force in the country (read more here).

“Filmed over the course of a full year, with the co-operation of Bradford Council’s Social Services Department, Edge of the City focused on what it described as “the darker side of urban life in Britain“. It was pulled from its original scheduled screening after objections from the late Colin Cramphorn, then Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police.

Channel 4 said, at the time, that the police feared the new documentary “would increase community tensions in Bradford, with the risk that it would lead to public disorder“.

““These are the neighbours we don’t want to know, whose problems we don’t want to see,” read the show’s publicity. As well as following a young offender, a “fiercely independent” elderly man and a disabled couple, the documentary examined the area of child abuse then just beginning to be known as “grooming”. It reported that white girls as young as 11 years old were being sexually abused by Asian men who encouraged their dependency on drugs and alcohol, over a period of time. They were then raped repeatedly, passed around families and friends for gang rape and then turned into prostitutes.

“In November 2011, a Channel 4 Dispatches programme on Muslim paedophile grooming, Britain’s Sex Gangs, was screened. Investigative journalist Tazeen Ahmad probed street grooming and also highlighted research that shows thousands of children are potentially being sexually exploited by street grooming gangs.

“This still may only be the tip of the iceberg, as experts believe many crimes of this nature go unreported. Dispatches’ research for the investigation showed that, in the last five years, 40 out of the 46 men convicted of grooming offences, such as paedophilic rape, were Muslim Pakistanis.

“After the programme, a spokesman for the Bradford Council for Mosques said it unreservedly condemned manipulation of young men and women for sexual or any other form of abuse. “There should be no hiding place for the culprits.”

“Shakeel Aziz, a youth worker who deals with the problem of sexual grooming in the Pakistani community, said: “I have been working with young Asian males for the last seven years in Keighley, with some work also in Bradford. Being a young Asian male myself, I have a deep understanding of what goes on in the minds of the youths I work with. In my experience, sexual grooming is an extension of other criminal activity, specifically gang association and drug selling. It’s really a jigsaw of different problems and issues in society that enforce one another. It is a lifestyle which involves all types of crime and evil and, from my perspective, everyone is a victim“.

One of the contributing factors is cultural confusion amongst young Asian men. There is a strong influence of South East Asian culture – of family honour, marrying within the family or tribe, and near-isolation from wider society. Then there’s the other extreme, of an over-sexualised, material and lust-driven lifestyle being presented through hardcore gangsta music and movies, which degrades a man to pimp and a woman to ‘bitch’“.

“Mr Aziz concluded: “The majority of young people have enough sense and understanding to make the right choices in life and follow the path of education and career-focused thinking. However, the minority who make wrong choices can end up being ‘groomed’ into drugs and gangs“.

“Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadan Foundation, a leading Muslim organisation in the UK that is working for peaceful co-existence and dialogue for all communities, said: “In Bradford we have a problem because girls from care homes in Keighley and from Leeds are going to Bradford and being abused, predominantly by Pakistani gangs. There must be no hiding place for these criminals, regardless of race or background in our country and we must not shy away from speaking out.”

“Mr Shafiq described the child predators as “sick and evil”, adding: “The time for ill-informed racial sensitivities on this needs to be stopped and we need immediate implementation of all elements of a new, positive action plan.”

“Former MP for Keighley, Anne Cryer told Parliament’s influential Home Affairs Select Committee in January 2013 that gangs of Pakistani men were allowed to prey on vulnerable young white girls for years in Bradford and Keighley, because authorities, including West Yorkshire Police, were “terrified of being called racist”.

“Anne, who was MP for Keighley for 13 years before stepping down in 2010, said there had been a total failure by local police, social services, schools and hospitals in West Yorkshire to work together to address the mounting evidence of child sex exploitation that emerged a decade ago. “There has to be inter-agency working – and that wasn’t happening then”.

“She added “West Yorkshire Police, Bradford Council, social services, schools, hospitals even – because abortions were taking place – none of them were working together. None of them were giving information“.

“Barnado’s Chief Executive, Anne Marie Carrie, offered this well-rounded view on this very emotive topic: “I have a lifetime of experience working in children’s services, but there is nothing more shocking than child sexual exploitation. These vulnerable defenceless girls and boys, who crave love and attention, are groomed then abused in the most callous and calculated way, leaving them deeply traumatised and scarred for life”. She added: “Although I thoroughly welcome the recent attention around the issue, the children at the heart of this crime have been forgotten as discussion has focused on the ethnicity of perpetrators in high profile cases.”

“During his three months in office so far, and particularly after Anne Cryer’s evidence to the HASC, there has been no press announcement from the West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner, Mark Burns-Williamson. It is highly relevant to point out that he was West Yorkshire Police Authority Chairman from 2003 to 2012.

Throughout the whole of that period child grooming in Bradford and Keighley was tolerated. Paedophiles inside the Force were being protected and covered up – and Jimmy Savile‘s horrific tally of rape and child abuse also concealed from the public. [The latter was actually employed by the police to front a ‘Safer Leeds’ publicity campaign in Leeds in 2008].

“In the meantime, Bilal Hussain and Shazad Rehman were found guilty at Bradford Crown Court on March 6th 2013 of repeatedly raping one girl and raping two other girls they picked up in the Keighley area. The girls were vulnerable and under-age and had been found walking the streets.

“Hussain, 23, of Leeds and 30-year-old Rehman, of no fixed address, pursued teenage girls between 2010 and 2011. They were jailed for 18-and-half years and 17-and-a-half years respectively. HH Judge Jonathan Rose said the men “engaged in a course of conduct which has become increasingly and depressingly familiar in this country”.

“The men, known to the girls as ‘Yaz’ and ‘Naz’, had pleaded not guilty to nine rape charges and supplying cannabis and Rehman has also denied two charges of sexual assault which relate to one of the rape complainants and a fourth young girl. The pair were also charged with a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by intimidating a female witness.

“Crown Prosecuting barrister Michelle Colborne QC said: ”They acted together travelling from their various home addresses in Leeds and Halifax to the Keighley town centre where they specifically targeted vulnerable girls, all underage.”

“She said some of the girls, none of whom can be identified, had difficult backgrounds or were emotionally fragile and may have been seeking attention. ”They were out of their depth and were supplied with strong alcohol and cannabis, enticed to believe they would have fun, that they were special. In truth what was on offer was beyond their control”.

“Miss Colborne added: ”This behaviour… was designed to exploit the girls’ lack of maturity, their lack of life experience and to render them more compliant.”

“Drink and drugs were given to the girls to reduce their inhibitions, or in some cases to leave them incapable of resisting sexual advances, or oblivious to them. Some of the rapes took place at the Alder House Hotel, Batley, and also at the Campanile Hotel, Bradford, after the girls, some as young as 14, had been picked up by the defendants in a silver Audi.

“After one of the girls told Hussain she thought she was pregnant, he allegedly said she had to terminate the pregnancy or he would kill the baby himself.

“Miss Colborne also said Rehman boasted to a woman they could get any girl they wanted and described them as ”fresh meat”.

“A West Yorkshire Police spokesman told the Bradford Telegraph & Argus at the end of January 2013 that 30 arrests in the Bradford area had been made. He said the arrests were as a result of a number of different investigations, but declined to comment on the nature of the operations. He said all 30 people had been released on police bail and that no charges had yet been brought against any of them”.

Much has emerged since that piece was written and WYP have charged, or prosecuted, large numbers of grooming gang members across three of its Divisions, Bradford (incorporating Keighley), Calderdale (mainly Halifax) and Kirklees (including Batley, Dewsbury and Huddersfield). In the latter, Neil Wilby was almost a lone voice in 2013 and 2014 in calling for police and council cover-ups to end following the discovery that Barry Sheerman, the town’s MP, had uncovered industrial scale child grooming across his own and in neighbouring constituencies in 2008 and 2009.

The decision of West Yorkshire Police and Kirklees Council, in 2009, was to take no action as they believed young girls being raped and trafficked by large gangs of Asian men were the wrong type of victims and they had made ‘lifestyle choices’. The WYP Divisional Commander for Kirklees at that time, John Robins, is the present day chief constable of the force. Barry Sheerman was the Children’s Minister at the same time.

The Labour Party and Government policy, expressed at the time via a circular from the Home Office, was for police forces not to investigate this class of crime. They were aware of the widescale nature of the problem across many towns and cities in England.

This revelation came to light via former Chief Crown Prosecutor, Nazir Afzal, in a BBC Radio 4 interview in 2018. He reversed a decision of his superiors to prosecute grooming gangs in Rochdale. It is also known that police were actively investigating child sexual exploitation in that era in the neighbouring Borough of Oldham (read more here) where the grooming problem was described as almost overwhelming.

It was later clarified that the Home Secretary at that time, Jacqui Smith, was not involved in the sending out of that infamous circular.

The concluding report of the Oldham Strand of an Assurance Review, commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester in 2019, which has examined alleged failings of council, police and partner agencies, is expected to be published either at the end of this year or early in 2022. A collateral police investigation, Operation Hexagon, is still ongoing.

At the same time, Bradford City Council is strongly resisting calls for a public inquiry into its rather more manifest failings. The newly elected Mayor, Tracey Brabin, who was MP for Batley and Spen between 2016 and 2021, is amongst those claiming that there were failings by the police and the Council. In the recent by-election which saw Kim Leadbeater elected to replace Ms Brabin, the issue of grooming in the constituency was very largely taboo.

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In response, Robbie Moore, MP for Keighley and Ilkley, says:

“Child sexual exploitation is huge issue in the Bradford District. A limited 50 page review found that:

– Major failings by the Council and police

– Children still remain at risk

– Unknown number of perpetrators still remain unchallenged

– Local leaders are sweeping this under the carpet by not investigating failings.

A full independent ‘Rotherham style’ review is needed so we can give justice to victims, protect children across West Yorkshire and instil trust back into those organisations who have failed us.”

James Cartlidge, MP for South Suffolk and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, says the Government expects Bradford Council to adopt the “most thoroughgoing approach” to ensure all lessons have been learned.

But when Mr Moore asked the Minister to back his campaign for an independent local inquiry into child sexual exploitation in the Bradford area, Mr Cartlidge said local authorities are responsible for commissioning those investigations and need to take ‘a thoroughgoing approach to ensure that all lessons have been learned and that local partners are doing everything possible to identify offending and protect children’.

The Leader of Bradford Council, Cllr Susan Hinchcliffe, has previously said a local inquiry was not necessary, as her council was working to protect children and improve its response to exploitation.

In response, Mr Moore says: “The main reason for my call for a Rotherham-style inquiry into child sexual exploitation in the Bradford district is to bring justice to the victims of these offences and help ensure the safety of children across my constituency”.

Page last updated at 2155hrs on Tuesday 9th November, 2021

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

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Photo credit: ICO

© Neil Wilby 2015-2023. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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