|Ged Fitzgerald, chief executive Liverpool City Council, at Exhibition Centre launch.|
Documents obtained by the ECHO, which are to go before a Commons inquiry, include a letter which was sent to Mr Fitzgerald in February 2003 while a Home Office researcher was attempting to probe abuse of young girls in the Yorkshire town.
The note, from the chair of the organisation now known as PACE (Parents Against Child Sex Exploitation), Hilary Willmer, claimed that the lawyers for Rotherham had been going over old ground in their explanations for postponing the research project that was being undertaken.
Mrs Willmer said in the letter addressed to Mr Fitzgerald: “We still believe that Rotherham Borough Council in fact obstructed significant planned research – about which there was already a written agreement.”
When news of the scandal broke earlier this year following the publication of a report by Professor Alexis Jay that found up to 1,300 girls and young women were abused over two decades, Mr Fitzgerald said the findings “raised questions” about his time in charge.
The Jay Report summarised his reaction to its findings as ”genuinely shocked and surprised” at what had emerged but that he “had no recollection of it being a major issue”.
Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said: “I have not seen the letter so I can’t comment on its contents.
“We have set up a meeting with the chief executive, which will be chaired by an independent person.
|Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson|
“This will allow him to be asked questions and make comments about his role, and I am sure this is something that will feature within that question and answer session.
“The chief executive has made clear that he’s willing to cooperate with that process and the Home Office inquiry.”
The Liverpool council meeting is expected to take place in early November.
According to documents to go to the Home Affairs Select Committee, “when the interim data (from the research) was received, council heads of service and South Yorkshire Police were outraged, not at what was happening to a large number of girls as a result of the actions by pimps well known to all significant services in Rotherham, but by the research itself that cast Rotherham in a negative light."
This, of course, is exactly the wrong reaction. It is the reaction of police and council who are full of pride in believing that they were doing a wonderful job of running their city. Meanwhile, girls were being trafficked and sexually abused every night. Were they that stupid or were they willfully ignorant? It would appear to be the latter, though quite possibly both.
“Attempts were made to suppress, change and manage the researcher’s research findings. Her research data was removed from her Rotherham council office, without her knowledge or consent and made unavailable to her”.
The documents add: “The council repeatedly tried to curtail the researcher’s communication with CROP (Coalition for the Removal of Pimping, which became PACE).”
The submission from PACE also claims the research was “left in no doubt that the expectation was that she would follow the instructions (to change data contained in her research) and not discuss the demands to change the data with CROP, the Home Office evaluators or the Home Office itself.”
The Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry begins next week.
Committee chair Keith Vaz said: “The proliferation of revelations about files which can no longer be located gives rise to public suspicion of a deliberate cover-up.
“The only way to address these concerns is with a full, transparent and urgent investigation.
“The Home Office must do everything in its power to locate any missing files in its possession relating to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and other places.”