Former boss of Rotherham council to be questioned over what he knew about child grooming scandal after claims that officials wiped computer files 

  • Ged Fitzgerald was chief executive of Rotherham council from 2001 to 2003
  • Now holds same role in Liverpool, the mayor will question him over report
  • Report found 1,400 abused in South Yorkshire town between 1997 and 2013
  • And senior officials allegedly wiped evidence from computers in 2000-2001

Facing questions: Ged Fitzgerald, chief executive of Rotherham council from 2001 to 2003, will be questioned over what he knew about the abuses

Rotherham council's former chief executive is to be questioned by his current employer over what he knew about the town's sex abuse scandal.

Ged Fitzgerald, now head of Liverpool council, presided in Rotherham for a two-year period between 1997 and 2013 when the sexual exploitation of 1,400 girls at the hands of Asian gangs went uninvestigated.

And during his tenure from 2001 to 2003, council figures allegedly wiped evidence of sexual abuse cases from computers as the Home Office compiled a report on the town.

Mr Fitzgerald will become the first of the senior councillors in charge during the scandal to face interrogation.

In a statement, Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson said he intended to raise his concerns about the report with Mr Fitzgerald.

He said: 'I note and am concerned that the Jay Report criticises Rotherham council for not taking the earlier Heal Report (often referred to as the Home Office Report) seriously, and will discuss these matters with Mr Fitzgerald as soon as possible.

'I will be seeking clarification as to whether he was aware of the Heal Report.

'Further, I also note that the Jay report is non-specific and does not name people. I will be seeking further clarification from Alexis Jay and others at Rotherham about Mr Fitzgerald's role.'

Mr Anderson added that he backed calls for a public inquiry into the scandal, which saw more than 1,400 children abused over a 16-year period from 1997 to 2013.

He said: 'In conclusion, I want to reassure people in the city of Liverpool that child protection and safeguarding our children is of paramount importance to me and this administration.

'We will always put our children's safety first.'

It is understood that Mr Fitzgerald, also a former chief executive of Lancashire County Council, is away on holiday.

The news comes after allegations emerged that Rotherham council staff seized and destroyed damning evidence of the hidden child sex abuse scandal. 

Officials are said to have ordered a raid on the town's young people's service centre in 2002 and seized nothing but the details of victims, offenders, and grooming cases that would have contributed to a landmark report in 2000-1, The Times reported.

It came shortly after senior police and council staff became aware of a researcher’s draft report revealing evidence of a child sex scandal.

According to the Times, the ‘raid’ was carried out at the office of Risky Business, the council’s specialist youth service, which offered help to vulnerable teenage girls. 

The researcher’s work was supposed to form part of a Home Office project on child sexual exploitation (CSE) in a number of towns. The chapter on Rotherham remains unpublished.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report, published this week, stated that the 2002 draft research ‘contained severe criticisms of the agencies in Rotherham involved with CSE’.

It alleged indifference and ignorance by senior managers and that ‘responsibility was placed on young people’s shoulders’ rather than the abusers’.

Professor Jay’s inquiry team was told by several sources that the researcher ‘was subjected to personalised hostility at the hands of officials’ and was unable to complete her work.

But the content that senior officers objected to was later found to be ‘largely accurate’. 

At one point during her ordeal the unidentified researcher put her concerns in writing, Professor Jay’s report revealed. A meeting was then held with the police district commander and senior council officials and she was told ‘never to do such a thing again’.

She was suspended for ‘an act of gross misconduct’ for including confidential data in her report, but was re-instated when it was proved she had done nothing wrong.

Senior officials ‘requested’ the researcher ‘remove or rewrite several sections’ of her report deemed to be ‘inaccurate or exaggerated’. But she changed nothing and sent her research to the Home Office on her last day of work. 

Cover-up? The interrogation comes after it emerged Rotherham council officials allegedly destroyed evidence

Professor Jay’s inquiry found the treatment of the researcher was ‘deeply troubling’.

The Times claimed the ‘raid’ took place over the weekend after the draft was first seen and that every file forming the basis of ten case studies in the report was taken away. 

Rotherham's current chief executive Martin Kimber today said he could find no evidence of an alleged raid by council staff on one of their own offices to remove evidence of the extent of the town's sex abuse crisis.

Mr Kimber said: 'The alleged 'raid' on the Risky Business office is not something that I am aware of and having made appropriate checks within the council, I am unable to find anyone who recognises this series of events as they have been presented to us.

'Similarly, I have been unable to find any reference within the Alexis Jay report to the alleged incident and have no other independent means of corroborating the allegations that are being put forward. If further information is made available which enables me to do so, I would be happy to look into it.'

The allegations came as South Yorkshire's chief constable spoke out about the report for the first time.

David Crompton said the findings made painful reading and vowed to 'fully investigate' the abuses.

He said: 'The report into CSE (child sexual exploitation) in Rotherham laid bare the failings of South Yorkshire Police over a number of years.

'This made for painful reading. However, I am determined that we will use the findings of the report to ensure the mistakes of the past are not repeated,' said Mr Crompton. 

'Regret': David Crompton, Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police (right with Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright), vows to fully investigate the report's findings which 'made for painful reading'

The chief constable said he was seeking a meeting with Professor Jay 'to fully understand her detailed findings and properly address any concerns'.

'I interpret this as a sign of confidence amongst victims that the force, as it stands now, will take these matters seriously and investigate them fully,' he added.

Meanwhile, officials including embattled children's services chief Joyce Thacker, who was still refusing to resign last night despite mounting evidence of her extraordinary complacency during a period of horrific and widespread child abuse.

Just five months ago she insisted that 'a sense of proportionality' was needed about the problem.

Even after several critical reports into the council's failure to deal with child abuse, Mrs Thacker told the Rotherham Safeguarding Children Board that she did not want it to focus entirely on child abuse.

Minutes of a meeting in March this year show she 'reiterated' that the council, social services and police 'need to retain a sense of proportionality with regard to child sexual exploitation'.

Mrs Thacker, who earns £115,000 a year, said the issue made up just '2.3 per cent of safeguarding work in Rotherham', adding: 'Although it is a very important issue, child neglect is a much more significant problem in the borough.' 

Professor Alexis Jay's report said: 'This is not an appropriate message for senior managers to give.'

Earlier an Australian abuse victims' advocate called on Rotherham's former director of children's services to step down from her current job in that country.

Andrew Collins said Dr Sonia Sharp's role as a deputy secretary in the state of Victoria's education department, which she has held since 2012, was inappropriate. She has been publicly backed by her employer.

Dr Sharp, who worked in Rotherham from 2005 to 2008, apologised to abuse victims yesterday and said staff were aware that 'many' children were at risk. She said she wished she could have done more but insisted she had helped improve things during her tenure.

But Mr Collins told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'Knowing that she is involved in the education department in the state of Victoria as a deputy secretary, I thought this woman should not be involved, have any involvement, around children.

'She should either resign or be stood down from her position.

'It is not good enough to say 'I'm sorry'. There's families and children whose lives will forever be altered and if somebody could have stopped that or done anything about that, it is just not good enough.'