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Senior Cumbrian councillor’s warning over Rotherham abuse scandal

An abuse scandal that has triggered revulsion across the country could happen in Cumbria, says the politician responsible for child protection in the county.

Anne Burns photo
Anne Burns

The warning comes as details continue to emerge about the horrific and prolonged abuse of 1,400 young children in Rotherham, South Yorkshire.

There are growing calls for the professionals who failed to listen to victims – including council bosses and South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner – to resign.

Reacting today, Councillor Anne Burns, who is politically responsible for children’s services in the county, warned that no area of the country – including Cumbria – should consider itself immune from the kind of abuse that happened in Rotherham over 16 years.

“Yes – it could happen here,” said Mrs Burns, who spoke as Cumbria continues its efforts to put right failings in the county’s child protection service uncovered in two successive Ofsted inspections.

She said: “What happened in South Yorkshire could happen absolutely anywhere. It could happen with people that you trust as well. I’m under no illusions. We can’t be complacent.

“We have a document from the Government, called Working Together to Safeguard Children, and it’s a good document, which talks about everybody being vigilant.

“We have to stop suspicion by each agency [involved] saying ‘It’s not me’.

“It’s all of us. But it’s not just for agencies. It’s about communities as well. People’s friends and neighbours are our eyes and ears.

“The more discussions we have about how we can help each other the better, but at the heart of this is the need to listen to the voice of the child.”

Asked whether she felt child protection in Cumbria has improved, Mrs Burns said it had.

She added: “I don’t think that things [here] are getting worse. There’s a better understanding of how we should work together.”

But she sounded a warning about the continuing shortage of social workers with the appropriate skills to deal with child protection issues. “Unless we can find more social workers with these skills then things can slip,” she said.

The most disturbing case of exploitation in Cumbria in recent years was the horrific abuse committed by Carlisle restaurant boss Azad Miah.

He was jailed for 15 years in 2012 for a string of sex crimes against underage girls.

These included encouraging them to become sexually exploited and paying girls, as young as 12, to have sex with him.

Mrs Burns revealed the personal impact of the Rotherham abuse scandal, saying: “Who would have believed the things which are crawling out of the woodwork following the Jimmy Savile case? That was an individual whereas this has been sexual grooming and assault by gangs.

“I’ve been absolutely horrified by what those poor children have gone through. If you are elected, the first thing you have to do is safeguard communities and children.”

Mrs Burns added that she felt South Yorkshire’s current police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright, who was the senior councillor responsible for children’s services when abuse was happening, should “bite the bullet” and resign his post.

“People won’t have confidence in him,” she said, adding that the revelations of the last few days had left her more passionate than ever about her current child protection role with Cumbria County Council.

As the debate over Rotherham heated up today, there were claims that the abuse was fuelled by a “culture of wilful denial”.

The country’s deputy children’s commissioner Sue Berelowitz said that institutions can be guilty of “wilful blindess”. She added: “We have to be careful that none of us is in denial about the terrible reality of what happened in places like Rochdale and Rotherham.”

The Rotherham scandal, involving children as young as 11, was laid bare in a hard-hitting report compiled by Professor Alexis Jay, who concluded that “nobody could say ‘I didn’t know’.”

Have your say

Child abuse unfortunately happens in all societies, when the abusers are aided and abetted by police and the childs carers it shows how low the people in charge of this country have sunk.

Posted by crumpet on 4 September 2014 at 17:48

I'm with those who say this is the tip of the iceberg. Like the weekly NHS horrorshow, nobody's going to be fired, demoted or prosecuted.

If Cumbria is serious about this, perhaps they could start by reviewing recent reports and records, then set up and advertise a hotline and website. Like Rotherham, plenty of people knew all about it except those in authority who didn't want to know.

Posted by Doramin on 2 September 2014 at 02:22

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