Telford and the moral depravity of political correctness
The grooming-gang scandal shows us that there is nothing noble about silencing uncomfortable truths.
One-thousand girls. That’s the stark figure at the centre of the inquiry into grooming gangs in Telford, which released its landmark report this week. It is believed that more than 1,000 girls have been abused and raped by grooming gangs in the West Midlands town since 1980. The inquiry was sparked by a Sunday Mirror investigation in 2018. Back then, the authorities dismissed the 1,000 figure as ‘sensationalised’ and suggested the newspaper had ‘made it up on the back of a fag packet’. This week, inquiry chair Tom Crowther QC described the Sunday Mirror’s estimate as a ‘measured, reasonable and non-sensational assessment’.
Then there are the stories behind those numbers. It is hard to think of anything more depraved, more stomach turning, more evil, than what went on in Telford. Girls as young as 12 – predominantly white and working class, many of them in care – were groomed, drugged, raped, gang raped, passed around like pieces of meat by groups of predominantly British Pakistani men. Some of these girls never reached adulthood. In 2000, 16-year-old Lucy Lowe was burned to death in a house fire alongside her mother and sister. It was started by Azhar Ali Mehmood, the 26-year-old who impregnated her when she was 14. So little was done to tackle this cancer in the community that the abuse, in some cases, became ‘generational’, daughters suffering the same fate as their mothers.
Telford is among the worst grooming-gang scandals we’ve seen. The scale of it is almost unthinkable. But our horror mixes with a shameful familiarity. We have seen so many cases like this by now. Over the past decade or more hauntingly similar scandals, involving young poor white girls and older Asian (often Pakistani) men, have been brought to light in Rotherham, Rochdale, Aylesbury, Oxford, Derby, Halifax, Keighley, Peterborough, Huddersfield, Manchester, Newcastle and elsewhere. And a slew of inquiries and reports have identified the same damning moral failings on the part of local councils and police. The authorities were too scared to intervene for fear of being accused of racism or inflaming community tensions. Victims were dismissed as essentially wayward girls who had got themselves into trouble. The prejudices of the authorities echoed those of the perpetrators – these girls were white trash who got what was coming to them.
So it was in Telford. As the report notes, the fears about accusations of racism and inflaming racial tensions led to a ‘reluctance to act’ on the part of the authorities. In the early 2000s, the report notes, ‘there was a feeling that certain individuals in the Asian community were not targeted for investigation into child exploitation because it would have been too “politically incorrect”’. Between 2006 and 2008, senior management within the council were concerned that allegations made against Asian men could spark a ‘race riot’. As far back as the 1990s, teachers were fearful of raising concerns for fear ‘that they would be labelled racist’. Meanwhile, the teenage and preteen victims of the gangs were treated by the authorities as ‘common prostitutes’. Many were arrested and charged, while adult abusers carried on with impunity.
Debate has raged in recent years about the extent to which grooming gangs, or group-based child sexual exploitation (CSE) as it is known in the jargon, are a predominantly Asian or Pakistani Muslim phenomenon. A Home Office review published in 2020 states that due to a lack of good data there are ‘significant limitations to what can be said about links between ethnicity and this form of offending’. A 2013 report by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre similarly notes that the data are too patchy to conclude anything concrete, but that ‘a disproportionate number of offenders were reported as Asian’ in the limited sample it examined. The lack of hard numbers to back up the impression that grooming gangs are a disproportionately British Pakistani phenomenon has led some in the media and politics to breathe a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge they can dismiss the issue as a racist myth.
But this utterly misses the point. It is a cowardly refusal to deal with a very real problem. The lack of a neat nationwide data set doesn’t change the fact that a slew of towns across the UK have been struck by the exact same problem – grooming gangs made up, predominantly but not exclusively, of Pakistani Muslim men. A grown-up society needs to be able to talk about uncomfortable things like this. Particularly if certain social or cultural factors may be contributing to a particular crime. Indeed, many Muslim ‘community leaders’ have argued such factors may play a role in fuelling Pakistani grooming gangs – particularly the attitude among this fringe of criminals that ‘impious’ white girls are worthless slags and thus fairgame for abuse. To recognise and talk about these problems is not to damn an entire group.
There is much about grooming gangs, the scale and character of them across the country, that we do not know. What we do know is that there has been a conspiracy of silence when it comes to Pakistani Muslim grooming gangs. This tragedy has played out time and time and time again. Cowardly authorities, prizing political correctness over protecting the most vulnerable, have ignored the evil on their doorstep for fear of being accused of racism or fuelling tensions. Worse still, the criminals knew all this. ‘I am certain that the absence of police action emboldens offenders; and I am certain that perpetrators of CSE were bold and open in their offending’, states the Telford report. ‘It is impossible not to wonder how different the lives [of the victims]… may have been, had [the police] done its most basic job and acted upon these reports of crime.’
Britain’s grooming-gangs scandal represents a kind of double horror. First and foremost there are the grotesque crimes themselves, the scale and depravity of which are almost unthinkable. But then there is the deafening silence about them. For decades, people just stared at their shoelaces. Victims were ignored. When those in positions of authority spoke up they were vilified. Former Labour MP Ann Cryer raised the issue of grooming gangs in her town of Keighley back in 2003. For her trouble, she was smeared as a racist and bombarded with death threats. Fast forward 15 years and Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, was forced to resign from Jeremy Corbyn’s frontbench for daring to talk about the menace that had so blighted her own constituency.
This is morally depraved. This is how much political correctness has screwed us up. Modern British officialdom would rather turn a blind eye to the rape of children than risk upsetting one group and ‘sending the wrong’ message to another. British Pakistanis and white Brits alike are treated like a race riot in waiting – incapable of tackling a very real but deeply uncomfortable issue head-on, without descending into mindless violence. This perspective is cowardly and contemptuous. But it also gets things the wrong way around. The silence on grooming gangs has if anything inflamed tensions. The issue has long been a recruiting sergeant for the far right, who for a long time were the only people talking about it. The mainstream’s silence on grooming gangs allowed extremists to exploit the issue for their own racist ends. Meanwhile, victims continued to be denied justice and scumbags continued to walk the streets.
‘Lessons must be learned.’ So goes the stock, bureaucratic response to every inquiry report, as officials formulate their anodyne apologies and pledge to finally do right by the victims. They should start with this one: there is nothing noble about silencing uncomfortable truths. In fact, it corrupts us.
Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_
Picture by: Getty.
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