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Trial By Media in Rotherham

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Last week the press found itself another villain. This time it was the Police and Crime Commissioner and former councillor in charge of children's services in Rotherham: Shaun Wright. Mr Wright was implicated by association along with practically everyone in any position of authority in Rotherham in the report called the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham 1997 - 2013, published by Professor Alexis Jay OBE.

After two days of screaming headlines, calling for Mr Wright's head and blaming him personally for all the ills in Rotherham from time immemorial, Tory MP Douglas Carswell defected to UKIP and Teresa May raised the UK Threat Level. Shaun Wright was suddenly old news - or at least inside-page news.

If you look at the press coverage, you'll see that initially Rotherham Council was first in the firing line. But this situation was quickly rectified by the perfectly timed resignation of the Council Leader Roger Stone. This left a void. But not for long. The Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group on Sheffield City Council immediately called on Shaun Wright to consider his position. The press had a new villain - one who refused to resign.

Then the Labour Party decided to step in. He should resign as PCC they said and gave him a deadline to consider his position; which he did and resigned from the Labour Party instead. By this time the press were in full blood-baying mode, ably assisted by all manner of politicians including Nick Clegg who also said Mr Wright should resign.

By now, authority figures in Rotherham were resigning all over the place and the ones that weren't were pointing their fingers at others to deflect the blame. Everyone had an opinion and you could drown in the rivers of hindsight washing over Rotherham. One lone voice was probably missed in all this, that of David Greenwood, the lawyer for 15 of the victims of sexual exploitation in Rotherham. He quieted stated that his clients were "not terribly concerned with who resigns" and basically they just wanted the right systems and funding in place to stop it happening.

I've read the report - not in detail but closely enough to see that this is an incredibly complicated situation. There are very few people, either currently serving or retired, on the Council, within the Police Force, in Social Services or any manner of other organisation concerned with the safety of children in Rotherham who have the right to cast any stones - never mind the first one. The report is very clear that one no single agency or body was to blame - they were all to blame. This was an omnishambles of epic proportions.

But as we all know, the press and politicians need a scapegoat. They need to show they're tough and always suitably outraged. In the case of the Labour Party, theirs is probably the most interesting reaction. Rotherham Council has been Labour run since its creation in 1974. This report details the Labour Party's failings as much as anyone's. Perhaps that's why the leadership were so quick to instantly distance themselves from all involved on the ground in Rotherham. But this back peddling might not help them as more Labour MPs and councillors start to voice their concerns about not being able to speak opening about the way politics is done in Rotherham.

The press has a role to play in scandals of this type. We need them to highlight this kind of horror and help us try to understand how such sickening events can continue for so very long unhindered. But we need them to do it responsibly. Deciding that one person is to blame for a situation which has been going on for decades - and is probably going on in other areas of the country too - does them no credit. No one is blameless in Rotherham but no situation is that simple and by attacking one person, the press make it seem like there is one simple magic-wand solution: Shaun Wright resigns and order is restored; all in the garden is rosy and no child will ever be abused in Rotherham again. Then we can all go back to ignoring this systemic, deep-seated cancer at the heart of our country.

The UK has a very big problem. For far too long we have ignored the widespread sexual abuse of children. We need to treat this issue seriously. We must stand back and accept that there's something very wrong with our society. If we don't, we will continue to uncover and then rebury these child-abuse scandals for the next 50 years.

Clearly, what we need is due process - we need the much-trailed public inquiry to get going immediately. We need to find out exactly what's going wrong and why. And then we need new laws to ensure that children are properly protected not only from sexual predators but also from the incompetence of the institutions whose job it is to protect them.

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