Last week the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) published its long awaited and final report on the police response to child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham between 1997 and 2013 – Operation Linden.
The IOPC was asked in 2014 to look into allegations made against police officers who served in the force during that time. This was the period of time covered by Professor Alexis Jay’s report that laid bare for the first time the true extent of child abuse. Operation Linden has taken nearly eight years and cost £6m. I was interested in the report and the reactions to it; but I was also left wondering whether this report now marks some significant milestone.
The report rehearsed again the failure of the police at that time to take action to safeguard young girls or to prosecute those responsible. It found that CSE was not prioritised, resources were not committed to it, those who pointed out the abuse were dismissed, victims were thought to be ‘consenting’, intelligence was not properly recorded and agencies did not work together. And so on.
Most, if not all of this, has been known for a long time – stretching back to the Jay report itself – and continuing with every other report, review and media investigation since that time. It is hard to believe that there are any stones left unturned.
Of course, much of the Operation Linden report was about the experiences of individual victims from that time – not so much the appalling abuse they suffered as the different ways the authorities, principally the police, failed them. Potentially there are – according to Professor Jay – upwards of 1400 such accounts. Each person has their own unique story to tell, though if we are to draw lessons we must be able to find the common threads running through them all.
For much of the past eight years or so we have been doing just that – finding out directly from the victims what happened to them, how the authorities got things so wrong and how the work of the professionals can be made better – the common threads I listed above. But where do we go from here? Do we just keep hearing from time to time more stories? After this IOPC investigation, I wonder if we now need to start asking in earnest some different questions as well.
In 2014, shortly after I became PCC, I set up a panel of Victims of CSE to learn first-hand about grooming. The group of young women who agreed to come on the panel and help said I should re-name the panel the Victims, Survivors and their Families Panel, and include families, which we did. They pointed out that as well as the primary victims – the girls themselves – there were secondary victims, including scared siblings and distressed parents. Moreover, those who had been abused were on a long journey: some still felt they were victims while others believed they had found the strength to be survivors. In later years some even called themselves thrivers. The point they were making was that they could not spend the rest of their lives defined by what had happened to them in their teenage years. They could not be trapped in victimhood for ever. They had to find the resilience to come through, they had survived.
So just as there are stories to be told about how they became victims, there are also stories to be told about how they became survivors, even thrivers. I only know a little of this, but for those on my panel, part of it lay in their meeting together as a group of women to give one another support. I met them once in a community room underneath a Rotherham church where we talked about – well, everything under the sun. On another occasion they organised a conference on CSE in Carlton Park Hotel, Rotherham, for professionals – social workers, police and the like. They did all the administration, decided who they wanted to speak and the topics they wanted to cover, advertised it nationally and found the funding. Several of them spoke giving moving testimonies and challenging the professional workers to re-examine their own practice. This too was an important part of their journey from victim to survivor, showing them that far from being something that for ever blighted their life or held them back, they could use their experiences, awful though they were, in this creative way.
And they were there for one another when their cases went to court and they had to be particularly strong as they confronted the men who had abused them. At this moment, for some, the support of an independent sexual violence adviser was critical, and for others, a sympathetic police officer.
I found Operation Linden disappointing. It cost a lot of money. It took a lot of time. It made recommendation to the police which by and large were unsurprising. But if it marks a milestone, perhaps what we now need are not more pieties for the authorities – of the ‘more must be done’ type – but recommendations for helping victims become survivors or even thrivers. What is the collective wisdom they need for navigating the rest of their lives? What are the common threads here?
Inflation, inflation, inflation
In a past, rather distant blog I wrote about the inevitability of high inflation later this year. Classical economics suggests that more money chasing fewer goods and services equals inflation, and for the past two years we have been pumping money into the economy as if there were no tomorrow – £400bn of quantitative easing – while at the same time shutting parts of the economy down due to coronavirus. Added to that is the cost of energy and the war in Ukraine. It is not so much wage and salary increases that have fuelled inflation as inflation fuelling pay demands.
There are a number of consequences for policing, none of which is hard to foresee.
Straightforwardly, there will be pay settlements for the public sector, including police officers and staff. There will be the effect of inflation on all the things policing needs – from vehicles and fuel to the cost of uniforms. Each PCC and chief constable will have made some calculations in their budgets – though no one foresaw general inflation hitting double figures; when we set our budget just before Christmas, the Bank of England was talking about inflation peaking at 5% this year! As we were already at 7.8% (April), we are going to need more savings than we thought.
But there are other areas that are less predictable, though not impossible.
When a population begins to see its (hard earned) savings start to lose value, it becomes restless and fearful. The public mood becomes more volatile, more angry. This will hold true even if unemployment is low – because those in work will see the fruits of their labours constantly eroded by inflation. Work will seem like a hamster wheel. So we should not be surprised if the next few years are marked by forms of social unrest, as well as strikes, with potential implications for policing.
I am not sure how we factor that into our calculations but it shouldn’t be something that takes us by surprise.
Harry Gration MBE, DL
I was interviewed many times over the years by Harry Gration, the BBC Look North presenter, who died suddenly last week. He was always very gracious and very fair. He was also supportive of the police and community groups and compered an awards ceremony for us some years ago in the Holiday Inn, Rotherham, which he did with abundant good humour. We are sorry that his retirement was cut short, but we remember him with affection and gratitude.