Labour will suspend South Yorkshire's police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright from the party if he has not resigned by the morning, a Labour source said. Earlier, Home Secretary Theresa May added to rapidly growing pressure on Mr Wright following the publication of a damning report into child abuse in Rotherham by appearing to join calls for him to quit his post.
Senior Labour figures including shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper have said Mr Wright must resign as PCC because of his previous involvement as a Labour councillor in the town. Heaping further pressure on him, a Labour source said: "We have given Shaun Wright time to reflect. If he has not resigned by morning, we will suspend him from the Labour Party."
Mr Wright was the council cabinet member responsible for children's services in Rotherham from 2005 to 2010, in the middle of a 16-year period when, according to the report, 1,400 youngsters suffered widescale sexual exploitation including gang rapes, grooming and trafficking. So far he has resisted pressure for him to leave the post, insisting he had no knowledge of the "industrial scale" of child abuse when he was a Labour councillor in the town.
Speaking today in Dumfries, Mrs May said it was not her job to select or dismiss police and crime commissioners but appeared to suggest he should heed calls from his own party to go. She said: "Shaun Wright obviously has had involvement in this, both as his role as a councillor and obviously he's now the police and crime commissioner.
"It's not my job as Home Secretary to hire and fire police and crime commissioners. The whole point of them is that they are elected by the people, so ultimately it is a choice for the electorate. But I believe his own party have called for him to resign. I believe he has real questions to answer and I think in the circumstances he should heed those calls."
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper added to the pressure on Mr Wright. She told Sky News: "We have said we think the police and crime commissioner should stand down, just as the leader of the council has done, because 1,400 children were abused and they were let down badly by the authorities.
"But it is not just about people taking responsibility that is important, but it is also about the wider reforms that are needed." The Home Secretary said the report contained accounts of "frankly the most horrific cases" in which young girls were victims of "the most appalling" sexual exploitation, threats of violence and grooming. Mrs May added: "And yet their calls for help went unheeded by the council or by the police.
"I'm afraid this betrayed an issue of attitude that was being take towards these girls. I think there are some real lessons for us to learn here. I think everybody needs to look at the role they played in this and at their position." Mr Wright apologised to victims but insisted he had no knowledge of the "industrial scale" of child abuse while he was a councillor.
But the Labour Party said he should step down from his £85,000-a-year PCC role following the publication of the damning report into the scandal. A Labour spokesman said: "The report into child abuse in Rotherham was devastating in its findings. Vulnerable children were repeatedly abused and then let down. In the light of this report, it is appropriate that South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Shaun Wright should step down."
The author of the damning report, Professor Alexis Jay, appeared to cast doubt on Mr Wright's claims that he was not aware of the scale of the problem. She said that, given the information available to agencies by April 2005, "nobody could say 'I didn't know'." She said: "Part of my remit was to identify what information was available to key people in positions of influence throughout that time.
"And there was certainly a very great deal of information available from an early stage; indeed from at least 2001, both through a youth project which did outreach work with these young victims and children's social care. But also because there were at least three key reports which were made available to the agencies concerned whose conclusions couldn't have been clearer.
"Then finally members of the council had seminars organised at which the detail of the youth project and indeed some of the other material ... was included in that. Names of potential perpetrators, car registration numbers, a very great deal of detail. Really by April 2005, it seemed to me that nobody could say 'I didn't know'."
She said the exploitation covered by the report was "at the worst end of seriousness". Prof Jay said: "I have spent decades looking at complex cases of child protection and I have never encountered such brutality and such abuse." Mr Wright, who was elected as the Labour PCC in 2012, insisted he had taken his share of responsibility by quitting Rotherham Council in 2010 after the scandal was first revealed.
He told Sky News: "Clearly I'm very sorry for any abuse that took place - if I could have prevented it, I would. Any right-minded human being would want to protect vulnerable children, of that I am convinced. All I can say is that this is a top priority for South Yorkshire Police and it will remain a top priority for South Yorkshire Police for as long as I am in this role."
He added: "I take my share of the responsibility, there was systemic failure and I only wish that I knew more at the time - if I knew then what I know now, then clearly more could have done. I think I took appropriate actions where that was available. I do have regrets that perhaps I was not more aware of the issue at the time where I could have perhaps influenced services better. But in the end I regret my role in that systemic failure and I have taken responsibility for that."
Mr Wright said Prof Jay should have gone further and "named names" in terms of council officials, politicians and police officers who had failed to protect youngsters from abuse. He added: "What this report demonstrates is that lots of information was not escalated up to political level or indeed senior management level. For that I am hugely shocked and hugely sorry."
Shadow chancellor Ed Balls, who was children's secretary in the last Labour government, admitted there was nothing the party could do to force Mr Wright to quit. He told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "The Labour Party has no power to compel somebody who has been elected as a police and crime commissioner to stand down.
"But it is absolutely our view that he should do so. That is something which has been communicated to him today and I hope he very much reflects upon the position he is now in and the importance of leadership in these matters. We need to show that we, not just in Rotherham but across the country, can command public confidence to keep children safe, lessons have got to be learned. But when you have a failure of this magnitude and catastrophe, then people have to take responsibility."
Mr Wright was informed of the Labour leadership's decision to call for him to go by a "senior politician" before the position was made public, a party source said. The source said it was "fair to give him a little while to reflect upon it" before any action was taken by the party if he refused to quit. Following a round of broadcast interviews, Mr Wright slipped out of his office in Barnsley town centre by a back door and drove away.
His spokeswoman said she did not know where he was heading and apologised to reporters who waited in vain for more than two hours to speak to the PCC, adding that she did not think he would be returning to the office today. Prof Jay's report revealed that although the majority of perpetrators were described as "Asian" by victims, councillors did not engage directly with the Pakistani-heritage community to discuss how to tackle the issue and some staff were nervous about identifying the abusers' ethnic origins "for fear of being thought racist".
But Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, the son of Pakistani immigrants, said: "It's definitely not racist to ask why majority of Rotherham abusers were Asian men. How else will we learn from these awful crimes?" Children's Commissioner for England Maggie Atkinson told World At One: "It's actually racist for anybody to consider that, were you to approach that community, it wouldn't take seriously what you were raising.
"It's racist to assume that you know what they will think and how they will behave. That's one of the failings that everybody needs to learn from in this excoriating report." There was no answer at Mr Wright's detached home on a smart, modern estate outside Rotherham, and the blinds were drawn.