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Row over grooming review deepens

Who would you trust? The party who for generations have run the councils where the rape gangs were getting away with these crimes, or the party who wasn't in power?

A deepening row surrounds the perceived independence of a review into the child sexual exploitation scandal that has blighted the reputation of Huddersfield.

Tories who questioned the impartiality of the man selected to lead an investigation on behalf of Kirklees Council have been accused of “shameful” behaviour.

Moreover, senior Labour members say they have “wilfully misinterpreted” the focus of a private meeting next week to which all 69 councillors on the authority have been invited.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has been asked to commission a review into the grooming and sexual abuse of vulnerable young girls. The Labour-led council wants it to be led by Dr Mark Peel, chair of the Leeds Children Safeguarding Partnership.

But Conservatives say Dr Peel’s investigation is neither far-reaching enough nor satisfactorily independent and have demanded a judicial inquiry.

They believe the public should not be informed whether the council and its partners acted appropriately … by a body that comprises those organisations. They say public assurances are not being met.

Tories consider Dr Peel to be too close to the people and partners involved in the inquiry and as such cannot be regarded as impartial.

A spokesman for Kirklees Council said Dr Peel will not be responding to criticism or public comments on his impartiality.

“As this stage, Dr Peel will take the time to listen to all councillors to understand their concerns.”

In a passionate speech delivered to a meeting of Kirklees’ full council on November 7 Clr Nigel Patrick (Holme Valley South) said: “This job needs to be done by someone who has no links to the partner organisations involved and it needs to be judge-led so that attendance is not voluntary.”

He also called for next Monday’s “secret” briefing to be held in public.

But his comments received a harsh objurgation from Clr Viv Kendrick, the council’s Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Children.

“I’m disappointed that Clr Patrick has wilfully misinterpreted the purpose of the briefing with all councillors and Dr Mark Peel.

“That he also casts doubt on the integrity and independence of Dr Peel is shameful, and unworthy of an elected member.

“The facts are clear: Dr Peel, as chairman of the independent review into child sexual exploitation, is seeking comments and advice from all councillors, ahead of that review.

“It will be an opportunity for councillors to understand the depth and breadth of the review. This feedback will inform his approach to the review, the findings of which will be made public.

“Both myself, and the leader of council, Clr Shabir Pandor, have stressed that we want to develop a cross-party approach to this issue. We owe that to the survivors and their families. Clr Patrick is making that task all the more difficult.”

Last month 20 men were sentenced to more than 200 years in prison after being found guilty of child sex offences including rape, inciting child prostitution and abduction of a child.

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