CLERGY in Rotherham are working to ensure that the town does not become synonymous with child-abuse gangs, after the conviction of six people for the systematic abuse of teenage girls.
“There is always the fear that something like this does stick, but there’s a lot more to Rotherham than that,” the Archdeacon of Sheffield and Rotherham, the Ven. Malcolm Chamberlain, said.
The Vicar of Rotherham Minster, Canon David Bliss, agreed that, to an extent, the connection was unavoidable.
“People in various parts of the country hear the word ‘Rotherham’, and then their minds go to the Jay report,” he said, referring to the report by Professor Alexis Jay in 2014, which found that at least 1400 children had been sexually exploited in the town between 1997 and 2013. “But enormous progress has been made.”
Last week, three brothers — Arshid, Basharat, and Bannaras Hussain — were convicted of multiple charges of rape and indecent assault of teenage girls in Rotherham. Their uncle, Qurban Ali, was also found guilty of conspiracy to rape.
Two women, Karen MacGregor and Shelley Davies, were convicted of conspiracy to procure prostitutes, and false imprisonment. The court had earlier heard how the men had regularly raped, abused, and prostituted 15 girls between 1987 and 2003.
Since the Jay report, Canon Bliss has opened up Rotherham Minster to the public, with prayer stations and places for quiet reflection.
“We realised that, while the trials were going on, we wanted to have another prayer station so that people can come in and just spend time there. I don’t work on site, but I can see candles that have been regularly lit by one of the prayer stations.
“I think it is an important thing for us to do, because people want to express themselves. There is a lot of frustration and anger.
“We wanted to be there for the people of Rotherham; to say: ‘This is your Minster — whatever your situation, you are welcome to just come in here, be quiet, and reflect.’ We hope that creating that space will be very valuable.”
After the Jay report, many leaders of Rotherham Council resigned, as well as the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner. The report castigated both social services and the police for failing to acknowledge the extent of the abuse and for not stopping it sooner.
Archdeacon Chamberlain said that the Christian community in Rotherham was now working to rebuild trust in local institutions, and, in particular, to build bridges with Muslims in the town.
“South Yorkshire Police and our MP have called meetings with Christian and Muslim faith leaders together,” he said. Since then, there have been discussions on how to show the people of Rotherham that the abuse was perpetrated by only a small minority in the community.
“We have had some early conversations about how youth leaders might work together to go into schools and talk about social change. . . We want to show that we are co-operating, particularly with young people, although we may have different beliefs.”
Canon Bliss said that the town’s interfaith council was becoming more important, and relationships between faith leaders were “growing tremendously”.
It was clear that Rotherham had changed from the dark days exposed by the Jay report, Archdeacon Chamberlain said. Although further trials were likely, and further evidence about how Rotherham had failed vulnerable young women was likely to emerge, last week’s convictions could mark a new beginning, he said.
“Certainly, for those who are survivors, it will bring an element of closure. It has been difficult for the town, but I think faith communities have tried to work together. I think the town is trying to move forward.”