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09 May 2012

Rochdale grooming trial: Split views on race issue

_60100691_mohammed_shafiq.jpgThe conviction of nine Asian men for grooming and abusing white girls has prompted strong, split opinions on whether race is an issue in such cases

A Muslim community leader has said there is a "problem" of British Pakistani men thinking "white girls are worthless and can be abused".

And the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP) said it was "investigating why there may be a majority of Asians in these particular kinds of offence".

But police said grooming was "not a racial issue" and MP Keith Vaz also said "no particular race or religion" tended to be involved.

'No silence'

The comments followed the convictions of eight Pakistanis and one Afghan man of child sex offences in Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

The nine men convicted of being part of a child sexual exploitation ring faced charges related to five girls but police believed there may have been up to 47 victims.

Start Quote

There is no excuse for this kind of criminality, whoever is involved in it, but I don't think it is a particular group of people”

End Quote Keith Vaz MP Chairman, Commons Home Affairs Select Committee

Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of The Ramadhan Foundation, said grooming was "a significant problem for the British Pakistani community".

"There is an over-representation [of Asian men] amongst recent convictions in the crime of on-street grooming [and] there should be no silence in addressing the issue of race as this is central to the actions of these criminals," he said.

"They think that white teenage girls are worthless and can be abused without a second thought; it is this sort of behaviour that is bringing shame on our community."

'Vulnerable young children'

He said community elders were "burying their heads" over the issue and police and local councils should not "be frightened" to address the problem, as there was "a strong lesson that you cannot ignore race or be over-sensitive".

Mr Shafiq said Muslim leaders needed to "reject any attempt to silence the reaction from our community".

And he said police would also need to "reflect on their failures" in this case.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Heywood, of Greater Manchester Police, said the case was not about race, but "adults preying on vulnerable young children".

"It just happens that in this particular area and time, the demographics were that these were Asian men," he said.

"However, in large parts of the country we are seeing on-street grooming, child sexual exploitation happening in each of our towns and it isn't about a race issue."

'All cultures and ethnicities'

Mr Vaz, chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and Labour MP for Leicester East, said the root causes of the abuse of young girls needed to be addressed but that investigations must not focus on the ethnic origin, religion or geographical location of those involved.

"There is no excuse for this kind of criminality, whoever is involved in it but I don't think it is a particular group of people, I don't think it's a particular race or religion," he said.

"It's totally wrong to say that it is, because you open up a Pandora's box as far as race relations is concerned and I don't think that's necessarily what we want."

A spokeswoman for the CEOP Centre said child sexual exploitation spanned "all cultures and ethnicities".

However, she said recent cases did "highlight that Asian males have been involved in an organised manner in exploiting young women".

"Some of these cases involved offenders from different backgrounds as well, although CEOP are investigating why there may be a majority of Asians in these particular kinds of offence."

And she said CEOP thought it was "important that we do not focus solely on one ethnic minority in case the groomer is part of a multi-racial group".



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