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The tragedy of Telford's girls
Did political correctness enable the biggest sexual abuse scandal in British history?
Ironbridge in Shropshire is seen as the birthplace of the industrial revolution — and a very pretty one as well. It was here that Abraham Darby the Elder first smelted iron with coke, hugely increasing the possibilities for cheap iron production. It was also here that his grandson and namesake built the famous bridge, which opened on New Year’s Day in 1781 and marks the spot where the great transformation began.
The industrial revolution pushed the country way ahead of any rivals, while increasing global living standards in unimaginable ways. Yet life for those living in the white heat of Britain’s industry was a form of hell, an existence of unending toil, poor health and increasing alienation; life expectancy in industrial Preston and other parts of the north would soon fall below 18, worse than for slaves in Britain’s Caribbean colonies.
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Not far from Ironbridge, Birmingham rose in power from a once modest village to England’s second city, while further north other industrial conurbations emerged in Lancashire and Yorkshire, drawing in rural workers and gifting the world England’s two greatest contributions to modernity, industrialisation and football.
But globalisation would lose Britain its competitive edge and with industrial decline from the early 20th century, and the destruction wrought in the war, many former urban former slums were demolished and new towns established on their periphery. As Britain’s empire retreated, often in bloodshed, the old towns became home to newcomers from distant former colonial outposts. They were attracted by industries in need of cheap labour and inexpensive housing — but the houses were often poor quality and the industries were dying. As for the inhabitants of the new towns, designed by the most forward-thinking town planners of the mid-20th century, they often found themselves miserable and isolated in their new homes away from London, Glasgow or Birmingham.
Today Ironbridge sits on the fringes of one such new town, Telford, built after the war to rehouse Birmingham’s working classes. It’s not a place most people would have heard about, except perhaps its non-league football club Telford United, once perennial giant killers in the days the FA Cup mattered. They folded in 2004, like so many small clubs in the provinces since the game was shaken up by the Premiership.
Telford is not going on the UNESCO list any time soon. Like most town planning from the late 20th century, it was designed around the car, and its centre consists of a modernist railway station, a motorway and a shopping centre with acres of parking spaces. It’s anti-urbanism.
I was there earlier this month with a team making a documentary for GB News, led and presented by journalist Charlie Peters, on a phenomenon so horrific and so widespread one would hardly conceive of it. Here, in a town of 140,000 or so people, some 1,000 young girls were systematically raped and sexually abused by gangs of men over a number of years — and this figure has been described as ‘tame’ by a witness to a recent inquiry.
The perpetrators were mostly Pakistani men, the victims were overwhelmingly poor, white and English. The girls, as young as 11 or 12, were given drink and drugs, gang raped and passed around, and threatened if they told the police. Countless such testimonies were confirmed by the authorities, and investigations here reported quite extreme and unprintable forms of sexual abuse. In this town seven men went to jail, although five were given relatively short sentences and are most likely out again.
The strangest thing about this story is that this was happening in dozens of cities across England over the course of two decades before it became a national story. As many as 10,000 girls were raped in this way, and countless people in positions of authority, in children’s services and police, knew about it.
There is simply no crime or horror like this in modern English history, not even from the most grizzly period of the industrial revolution; Dickens couldn’t have conceived of anything so squalid or criminal. Yet it was happening across England, and in small towns like Telford a huge proportion of the community would have been in some way connected to someone affected. While we were there, the first three people Peters spoke to knew individuals who were involved, either as victims or perpetrators.
The abuse took place in a number of ordinary suburban houses in streets that must have once promised incredible liberation from the overcrowding of Birmingham. Near Telford United’s old ground, now home to a phoenix club which replaced them, we were tracked by a car clearly wanting to know why four white guys were filming in their neighbourhood. This happened again at a nearby address a mile away, two young men following us in another car; it felt vaguely menacing, but the filmmakers assure me it was nothing compared to the genuinely threatening atmosphere filming in Oldham.
It’s almost 20 years now since Labour MP Ann Cryer first raised the alarm over the widespread existence of rape gangs, a story that seemed completely bizarre and implausible to those living outside of the towns where it went on.
But the story first made national news with Andrew Norfolk, a Times journalist who had heard rumours about groups of Asian men using white girls, often very young, for sex. The stories at first focused on Rotherham, a former industrial town in south Yorkshire once known for the production of cast iron, and close to Sheffield, steel capital of the world.
Norfolk was disturbed by the stories and wanted to prove them wrong, but the more he spoke to people, the worse the horror unfolded. In one of the most disturbing cases, the Times journalist had been alerted to the story of a Rotherham girl called Laura Wilson.
Wilson, who had an IQ of just 58, had been groomed since the age of 11, suffering abuse for the next few years until, aged 17, her ex-boyfriend stabbed her 40 times and threw her body in a canal. Wilson, who had told his family about their relationship, has since been described as the first white victim of an honour killing. A serious case review found that she had been failed by 15 different agencies, a thread that would become familiar as countless similar stories emerged.
In 2011 the Times splashed with a report that a ‘culture of silence’ had facilitated ‘the sexual exploitation of hundreds of young girls by criminal pimping gangs’.
Norfolk’s investigation into Rotherham was met with disbelief in some quarters and denial in others. The Labour-controlled council tried to censor a report into its failings, redacting elements and getting a High Court injunction to stop the Times publishing uncensored extracts. It was only when Education Secretary Michael Gove intervened that they conceded.
The head of children’s services at the council had said grooming only took up a small amount of their work and a ‘sense of proportionality’ was needed. Yet girls in the town had been gang raped as young as 11. Some had been threatened with guns, even covered in petrol and told they would be set alight. It also emerged that the council had reports from as far back as 2001 and its councillors were briefed in 2004-5. They knew what was happening in their town.
Rotherham Council eventually commissioned the Jay Report which found there to be 1,400 victims in total, in a city barely over 100,000 in population. After two damning reports, South Yorkshire Police launched Operation Clover and managed to convict six people; four Pakistani men and two white women who lured the girls.
But Rotherham was not alone. It was happening all over the country, in Oldham, Rochdale, Hull, Oxford, Peterborough, Bristol, Keighley and dozens more. The GB News documentary team has found over 50 towns and cities in Britain with credible reports of similar gangs operating.
As details emerged it became increasingly clear that this was a society with deeply dysfunctional ideas about right and wrong. In many cases social workers simply accepted that girls as young as 13 were taking drugs, getting pregnant and engaging in prostitution, or at the very least seeing men in their late 20s. Where one 13-year-old was given alcohol and sexually abused, someone wrote: ‘she needs more appropriate friends and interests’. That girl’s parents moved the whole family abroad to escape the gangs.
In some case, even when authorities discovered underage girls engaged in sexual acts with much older men, they did not act. There seemed to be no sense that girls under 16 could not consent to sex, and that these weren’t ‘boyfriends’ but paedophiles. There was just no moral judgement at all.
Many of the victims lived in care, and it was the responsibility of the state and its employees to be in loco parentis, a job it obviously cannot and will not do. Girls got lost in the system, moved from case worker to case workers in underfunded children’s services, who often stood by as the predators moved in. The state was no substitute for parents.
But some of the victims did have mums and dads; most shockingly of all, many of the girls’ parents went to police but they did nothing; in a couple of instances parents were even threatened by authorities. Some police forces lost evidence and, more disturbingly, in others the police had links to the families of grooming gangs.
The girls did not have the protection of the law, and without the law — an impartial authority that favours no one — the only law is the law of the clan.
A society which was relaxed and non-judgmental about drugged up 13-year-old girls being screwed by grown men was in contrast almost Victorian in its rigid morality about race. Not long before one of the reports, Rotherham children’s service had in 2013 made news by removing two children from foster parents because they had voted Ukip. The children were from eastern European Roma backgrounds and, God forbid they might be cared for by people who supported a Right-wing political party.
Extreme sensitivity about race hampered attempts to expose and stop the abuse throughout. Rotherham is about 3% Pakistani, yet Pakistani men made up the majority of abusers, although there were also Afghans, Kurds and Albanians involved.
Yet the Rotherham report had taken out statistics on ethnicity. Youth workers said they were told not to mention race and so Pakistani taxi drivers — who were often involved — were described as ‘men of a certain ethnicity, engaged in a particular occupation’. When police suggested the targeting of drivers, Pakistani councillors told them it would cause ‘a lot of community tension’.
Multiple internal reports and statements by police confirm that everywhere there were fears about racial issues. A confidential 2010 report for Rotherham’s safeguarding children board stated that the crimes have ‘cultural characteristics… which are locally sensitive in terms of diversity… It is imperative that suggestions of a wider cultural phenomenon are avoided.’
The father of a Rotherham victim was even told there would be riots if the truth became public. A Greater Manchester police source said an earlier investigation in Rochdale was abandoned because ‘the inquiry was crippled by misplaced fears about upsetting racial sensitives’.
It seems hard to imagine it would have gone on like this if the perpetrators were white. It’s also questionable whether it would have happened without the impact of the Macpherson Report, which found the Metropolitan Police to be ‘institutionally racist’ (on some fairly dubious ground). To be seen as unsound on race afterwards was to commit career suicide in the police.
People talk of ‘political correctness’ or, more recently, wokeness, as being about abstract and silly issues, but taboos have real-world consequences — it’s just that the victims tend to be people no one cares about.
One common problem was that data wasn’t kept on the ethnicity, with 28-86% of perpetrators in the case studies of one report not having their racial background logged. The Jay report said, ‘It is unclear whether a misplaced sense of political correctness or the sheer complexity of the problem have inhibited good-quality data collection generally and on ethnicity more specifically’.
A report by the Children’s Commissioner said that the focus on Pakistani abusers was due to ‘prejudice and stereotyping’. Yet the organisation had the statistics showing this wasn’t just stereotyping; the abusers were disproportionately Pakistani.
Under pressure, the Home Office eventually produced a report in 2020, which concluded that Asians might be overrepresented but that the data was too poor. This was misrepresented as suggesting that whites were largely responsible, by people who either didn’t understand the total racial composition of Britain or pretended not to. This denial of the racial element is still used by those keen to score political points at every opportunity. In 2021 the Home Office published new research, with better data from the Child Sexual Abuse data showing that, indeed, 83% of perpetrators were from Muslim backgrounds.
Categorisation is a tricky task. Many people from Hindu and Sikh backgrounds objected to the term ‘Asian grooming gangs’ but the abuse was clearly not related to Islam or Islamic culture. Britain has Muslim communities from dozens of different countries and schools of Islam, most of whom would find this phenomenon horrific and inexplicable; the deeper cultural cause was not religion but the rule of the clan. The perpetrators’ families came from rural parts of Pakistan with high rates of cousin marriage and strong clan solidarity, where trust within the group is very high, and trust outside very low. To many men involved, women from outside the community were not considered worthy of respect, especially when they were seen as immoral. In both Telford and Rotherham, girls were routinely called ‘white slags’ and ‘white whores’. These were sexually-motivated crimes, but race — and the dehumanisation of outgroups — was certainly a factor.
The settlement of very clannish people, with conservative social mores about pre-marital sex and marriage, into a post-industrial society with very weak familial ties, permissive sexual attitudes and large numbers of broken homes, was always going to prove explosive. Add to this a society ruled by strong taboos about race and racial guilt, which crippled honest discussion and incentivised public servants to avoid damaging their careers by going against the grain, and England became the perfect environment for predators.
Much of the underlying narrative about race in post-war Britain has been a morality tale involving goodies, baddies and victims. Minorities played the role of the vulnerable and defenceless whose lives were improved and saved by the benevolent white progressive. The villains of these tales were invariably the native poor, whose lack of enthusiasm for the newcomers, expressed without eloquence or sensitivity, was often a feature of media portrayals of integration. In television shows of my childhood the race narrative was always presented as defenceless and feeble Pakistani migrants at the mercy of skinheads and football hooligans, England’s working-class Untermensch. That happened in many places, it was one narrative, but there was another story too.
People growing up even in the 1980s recall stories about Datsuns parked outside the school gates. It was already well known that groups of predominantly Kashmiri men, linked by close bonds of family and ethnic ties, were grooming local girls in places like Bradford. These were the girls who had the least protection either from male relatives or the police or social services, the class of people no one really cared about; indeed, the class of people who had been set up as the villains in Britain’s new racial morality tale. Their girls would become the victims of the biggest mass rape in British history.
Several of the victims of grooming have since committed suicide; many have been unable to cope and fallen into drug addiction, a number fatally. In the towns more widely there is lingering anger, not just at the rapists but the various arms of British society which enabled it.
The story was ignored and then downplayed. When the Telford scandal arose, it barely received coverage in the BBC. The police and social services have lost huge amounts of confidence, while the Labour Party has been especially damaged, the ruling party of every single town where this has taken place, the party of multiculturalism and a party famously open to manipulation by the Pakistani baradari system.
Although a number of factors have driven Britain’s political realignment, Brexit most famously, the exodus from the former ‘people’s party’ is hugely pronounced everywhere the grooming scandal has been uncovered. Labour won over 70% of Rotherham voters in 1997, but only hung on in 2019 because the Brexit Party split the Right. The Tories made further local council gains in the town in 2021, a scenario once unthinkable. In Telford, Labour had a 30-point lead over the Conservatives in 2001 which became a 25-point advantage for the Tories in 2019.
Voters can at least punish politicians in elections, because no other member of the establishment ever seems to suffer. It is a feature of British civic life that very few people ever pay the price for failure, failure which costs other people their lives, freedom and wellbeing.
After more than 10,000 girls suffered sex abuse, almost no one has suffered career penalty for their action or inaction. A long IOPC investigation found that six police officers were guilty of gross misconduct but no one lost their job. Nobody ever does. The local councillors and officials who watched this horror unfolding and did nothing for the sake of ‘community relations’ only suffer from any niggling consciences and lost sense of self-respect, if anything. In a final black comedy postscript, earlier this year Rotherham was named the ‘Children’s Capital of Culture’, a decision that appears almost like a troll by the powers-that-be to the people of that town, and dozens of similar towns across the country.
Peters and the GB News documentary team spoke to victims and whistleblowers from many of the towns where these gangs were rife. They all said the same thing: the abuse is still happening, justice has yet to be delivered for thousands of young girls, and the authorities have failed to learn from their catastrophic incompetence.
Ironbridge and Telford, side-by-side bywords for Britain’s rise to greatness and prosperity, and its descent into squalor, abuse and moral anarchy.
A new investigation into the scandal is set for release on GB News later this year
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