A couple of weeks ago I attended a major event in Bradford. The Aagrah banqueting suite near Pudsey was the venue for the “Feel the fear….and do it anyway” conference hosted by TAG (Together Against Grooming). This was a major conference organised by volunteer Muslim groups to address the issue of grooming gangs but also the wider Child Sexual Exploitation issues pervading all society.
Over 500 people from all over the country packed the suite. Alan Craig, Ukip spokesperson for Families and Children, came from London. Alan and I have done a great deal of work on the cancer within our society that is the grooming gang issue.
We sat on a table that was made up of six midwives from Huddersfield and Halifax. They were on their day off and had paid the £15 ticket fee themselves, it added to their annual Continuing Professional Development but hats off to them for attending. As the victim stories were unfolding, they were visibly shocked at the disturbing scenarios told.
Speakers ranged from Sarah Rowbotham, the sexual health worker who blew the whistle in Rochdale, and Nazir Afzal, who had been head of the DPP and insisted that offenders were prosecuted for the first time, to victims of CSE. I have picked out a few for mention as they really struck a chord with the audience and received, quite rightly, standing ovations.
Angela S from Keighley is the mother of a victim, her youngest of four daughters who was abused from the age of ten. Bright and clever for her age, this young woman was abused for years. Angela even became a councillor in her fight for recognition but was told she couldn’t speak out. Despite 19 years of campaigning she has never got the answers she wanted. She has called numerous times for a public enquiry, as has Bradford Ukip, but it has always fallen on deaf ears. Her story was told in total quiet and reverence for her plight. It was harrowing and you could not only hear her pain, as she told the story you could feel it too.
Between Angela and her friend, they had four young daughters being raped and trafficked by Pakistani men. They sat them down one day and asked them to write a list of names of men that they had had sexual contact with. It came to 57.
Salma Yaqoob from the Respect Party was on the stage as part of a panel. I take great issue with something that she said. She was making out that this issue cannot be political; that it is a policing and social service issue, together with education and other agencies. Yes, I agree with this, but I have to say this whole issue is surrounded in politics. It was politically expedient to cover the issue up for years. Any real solution to this will have to be politically driven, from funding for victims to disruption programmes and future prosecutions. It takes a political will to ensure these conferences mean something and get results.
After a fabulous lunch provided by the very amiable staff, the first speaker was Sabah Kaiser, a British born Punjabi woman. She told us a harrowing story of how she was abused throughout her life by her uncles from within the family. You could have heard a pin drop in that room as she recounted her story. It was truly difficult listening.
What was disturbing for me as an ex policeman who dealt with CSE was when she was fifteen she had been interviewed by police. But she couldn’t tell them what intercourse was, she had never heard of it, she did not know or understand what was being done to her. She originally thought she was being punished for wrongdoings. She just instinctively knew it was wrong.
The police took the view that if she did not know what intercourse was, she couldn’t possibly have had it done to her. With that they left. This was unprofessional, poor judgement and to be honest, lazy policing. Things have to change.
So where is Ukip now? This is my personal view and the comments here are my own and I stand by them. Clearly things are moving; even recognition within the Muslim community that this is a problem is a major step forward. This event was a milestone in dealing with this issue. The topic was broadened out from grooming gangs consisting of Pakistani men to abuse within the family Muslim unit, a first that I can recall.
The grooming gangs were never forgotten and certainly not glossed over. The Muslim community is now very much taking part in the topic of conversation. On a local level, Ukip must now become engaged in that conversation. As we are building from the grassroots level with councillors, and making great efforts in this avenue, we must start to work with the various charities and organisations dealing daily with this problem.
There is no reason now for Mr Robinson to report from outside a court any more. The country is more than aware of this problem such has been the press at trials and the convictions and sentencing. We need to take a much more pragmatic and more constructive role.
There is empirical evidence in abundance with the Rotherham and Rochdale branches, myself, and Allan Craig to ensure knowledge and understanding of what has taken place that can be shared.
Sensationalism is not needed any more, grassroot engagement will win us both respect and votes. The call within the manifesto for a national public enquiry is a policy and message shared by many. Branches within constituencies directly affected by this social pariah can do so much good work, especially with victim support. Never forgetting though that a serious criminal conspiracy has taken place over many years, a wrong that most certainly needs righting.
Let Ukip lead on this, a two-pronged attack and campaign for changes throughout the country to cease CSE, calling for a public enquiry and working with charities and victims in order to best assist a way forward, and yes the Muslim community too.