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Scandalous abuse

14 July 2017

BBC/Sandpaper Films

In the dock: a sketch from the 2012 trial of the perpetrators of the scandal in Rochdale, the subject of The Betrayed Girls (BBC 1, Monday of last week)

In the dock: a sketch from the 2012 trial of the perpetrators of the scandal in Rochdale, the subject of The Betrayed Girls (BBC 1, Monday of last wee...

THE Betrayed Girls (BBC 1, Monday of last week) deserves more respect than a jokey intro from me. Its indictment of agency after agency of those national institutions supposed to support the vulnerable and ex­­tirpate criminal activity is of such gravity as to make one won­der quite where to start to pin the blame.

This documentary, which chron­icles and analyses the Rochdale groom­­­­­ing scandal, was considered important enough to deserve an hour-and-a-half of prime time. What we entered into was a world of moral turpitude, in which black-and-white absolutes were so tempered by ap­­parently reasonable relativities as to turn them on their heads: the abused girls, all under age and therefore clear­­ly the victims, were arrested for causing a disturbance, while their abusers went free, for years.

A sexual-health clinic set up in 2003 under the Blair government almost immediately assembled a dos­sier of widespread sexual abuse of young white girls by Pakistani taxi-drivers and fast-food staff. One of the heroes of the story, Sara Rowbotham, reported her evidence again and again to the police and social services.

So petrified were they of stirring up racial hatred that they did nothing: the girls were nearly all from dis­turbed backgrounds, were drinking and taking drugs were probably pro­mis­cuous, and so considered largely culpable.

Another hero was DC Maggie Oliver, who worked separately to build up a case; her work was abruptly terminated. The Crown Prosecution Service was unwilling to act. Quite separately again, even the respected MP Ann Cryer, stumbling on the same pattern in Keighley, could get nothing done, and was accused of racism.

A Muslim community leader, Mohammed Safiq, assembled a sep­arate case and took it to the mosque leaders: the perpetrators were all respectable, married, pious — so he was told to drop the matter.

The authorities refused to act; so the BNP and EDL stepped into the vacuum. This is precisely the beha­viour from Asian Muslims which they have been shouting about for years, and the Establishment handed them on a plate a genuine grievance. Eventually, a new Chief Prosecutor was appointed, and he overturned previous policy.

The police were galvanised into action, the cases were successfully pro­secuted, and long sentences were handed down. It was a bitter victory: many of those who had worked to get justice for the girls were broken by the experience, as were the girls them­selves. From the dock, one of the perpetrators harangued the court: every institution, he said, had aban­doned these children; only he and his friends had paid them attention.

This, of course, did not excuse the vile crimes, but it contained a grain of truth: we had betrayed them.

Channel 4 offered another chal­lenging documentary in its series about our prisons, Life Behind Bars (Tuesday of last week); but, for escapist comedy, I recommend Count Arthur Strong (BBC1, Fridays), a creation that plumbs such depths of lunacy as to achieve a curious in­­nocence.

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