Friday, 16 December 2016

"It Won't Happen Again"-- Really?

Breathtakingly Bad

For several years we have appreciated the George Gently crime series produced in the UK.  Set in the 60's in the north of England the attitudes of many police, as portrayed in successive series, seem to belong to a dim dark age.  It gives the viewer some comfort because the (soft) implication is that the attitudes reflected by some police characters in that series belong to the past.  Modern policing (it is implied) has moved way beyond such practices and attitudes.

It is a "comfort" that ought not be held.  Some recent instances and cases have come to light which paint a less soporific picture.  How much has changed for the better?  Really changed?.

The Guardian reports on a concluded review of  how West Yorkshire police and other social authorities "handled" the recent grooming and sexual exploitation of a child.  It is grim stuff.  
Police and social services in West Yorkshire were guilty of “a serious systematic failure” to safeguard a vulnerable girl who was groomed and raped by at least 13 men, an investigation has found.  A serious case review by the Bradford Safeguarding Children Board found insufficient steps were taken to protect the girl from exploitation.

Known by the pseudonym Autumn, the girl was 12 when she was assessed by the children’s charity Barnados as being at high risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE). At that point, in July 2010, she had gone missing twice from her home in Keighley, near Bradford, and had received texts and phone calls from much older, unknown men.  The review said West Yorkshire police held the belief that children such as Autumn were “actively consenting and choosing to become involved” with the men.

Although members of Autumn’s family suspected she was being exploited it was not until July 2012 that police began to actively investigate her abusers.
By that point she had been recorded missing 70 times, her school attendance was down to 42%, and she had been deemed by social workers to be “in the top 10 young people at risk of CSE in Bradford”.

The review blamed a “multi-agency failure” to respond appropriately after Autumn reported being raped in May 2011, when she was 13. She quickly withdrew the allegations and police did not try to get her to consent to a forensic examination.
It took two years for the Police to begin to take the matter seriously and begin to investigate!  The piece goes on to describe instances which, in hindsight, betray the duty of care by the Police and other authorities.  The occurrence of such failures implies a widely held "world view" that blamed the thirteen year old victim for her circumstances.
Autumn reported being terrified that her abusers would hurt her or her family. In July 2011 her school and police recorded an incident in which Autumn alleged she had been “roughed up” by an Asian man. Buttons were missing from her shirt and there were finger/hand marks where she had been grabbed. The report noted she wasn’t medically examined but staff from her school “were sufficiently concerned about the external threats to Autumn to have stopped picking her up in their own car”.
Of course all this is now coming out in the review.  The Guardian piece concludes with the authorities claiming, "It's all different now."
David Niven, the independent chair of the Bradford Safeguarding Children Board, said: “These offences were committed a number of years ago. So much since then has changed in awareness, learning and education when it comes to the sexual exploitation of children. We all learn things in retrospect. Of course, we wish we were as aware then as we are now – our work with Autumn has shown that.  With all we have learned since then, I am absolutely convinced that many other potential Autumns have been prevented in the last few years.” 
Let's hope so.

By this time, the perpetrators of the sexual exploitation and the violence against the victim have now all been apprehended and are behind bars.  An earlier Guardian article described the trial:
Twelve men have been sentenced to up to 20 years each after being found guilty of sexually exploiting a vulnerable girl in West Yorkshire when she was in her early teens.  The men, who include three sets of brothers, were mostly young, low-level criminals living in Keighley. But one was a taxi driver 46 years older than the girl, who had sex with her in his cab when he picked her up as a fare, and another a paedophile with a long history of sexual offending, whose nephew was in her class at school.

Ranging in age from 19 to 63, the men abused the girl at different places around the former mill town near Bradford. She was raped on the library steps, in an underground car park at an abandoned police station and in the rugby club changing rooms at Burgess Fields park. One afternoon in 2012 five of them lined up to rape her in daylight on Dalton Lane, near the town centre.
These men are described as "Asian" which in the UK is most often used as a euphemism for Pakistani--which they are.
Many of the men behaved so badly in the dock that the judge admonished them regularly throughout the trial at Bradford crown court.

Passing sentence on Monday, Mr Justice Thomas, QC, told them: “The attitudes that the majority of you have so clearly demonstrated to these proceedings have been contemptuous, disrespectful and arrogant on a scale that I have hardly seen before in many years of practice in criminal law. Exactly the same as your attitude to the 13- to 14-year-old girl who you all sexually abused and exploited for your own selfish gratification.”

Some of the men treated the case as a joke from start to finish. They grinned in the police mugshots taken after their arrests, messed around in the dock, and laughed and waved as they were sent to prison to begin their sentences.

They lied about knowing the girl, despite a number having sent her explicit Facebook messages demanding oral sex. The court heard how Asian men would shout at the white girl in the street, calling her “Randi”, the Urdu word for “slag”.  
Have police and relevant authorities learned their own lessons?  Let's hope so.  Or does the George Gently series continue continue to be a reflection of, and a window into, modern policing and social governance in the UK?  

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