Last week we saw the publication of the report into Child Sexual Exploitation in Telford. The report makes for harrowing reading. It tells the story of young women and girls whose abuse was ignored and normalised by those in a position to protect them. It is a story of institutional blindness and denial, with those in authority looking the other way, as the victims of abuse were regarded as ‘badly behaved children on the margins of society.’ Whilst we all know it is the perpetrators that are to blame for horrific crimes, it is impossible not to feel a deep sense of sadness and anger about the entrenched culture and attitudes that allowed this to go unchecked for so long.
It was encouraging to see how West Mercia Police instinctively responded to the report’s findings. They took a reflective and self-critical stance, with those at the top, acknowledging their failings and apologising for those failings. I am grateful to West Mercia Police for that response, because in so doing they can drive change.
The report says the Council had shown a reluctance to accept criticism, adopting instead an essentially defensive stance. It goes on to say that recognition of mistakes is essential for learning and growth and that in order to foster a culture of openness and learning, it is necessary to recognise and admit mistakes. It was clear that failings continued after Operation Chalice and that these failings continued until 2016.
While many senior council officers are no longer in post, members of the Council's political leadership team, in post then, remain at the helm today. It is not enough to say this did not happen on my watch. That is exactly the wrong response to such a thorough, measured and thoughtful report. Individual blame is seldom helpful, but an institution and its culture is shaped by the people who lead it. For anyone to still be saying this all happened a long time ago, not on my watch, is deeply disappointing.
I hope in time we see a more considered response, admitting mistakes and demonstrating a willingness to learn. Saying sorry for the suffering of victims is a step forward; it is a sorrow we all share. But admitting to and apologising for the mistakes that caused that suffering, is a much bigger step and one that I hope our Council will now step up and take.