A police chief has bowed to pressure and resigned over a 16-year sex abuse scandal involving at least 1,400 children.
Shaun Wright stepped down as the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, a county in northern England that includes Rotherham, the town at the centre of the abuse claims.
Mr Wright was formerly in charge of children’s services in Rotherham for some of the period when girls as young as 11 were raped by multiple offenders, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, where they were beaten and intimidated, mainly by gangs of Pakistani heritage.
A report into the abuse also found children had been threatened with guns, made to witness rapes and even doused in petrol and warned they would be set alight.
Mr Wright faced widespread calls to resign when the scandal emerged in August, but refused, saying he was proud of his achievements as police and crime commissioner.
His resignation statement reads: “My role as South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner has clearly become prominent in terms of public opinion and media coverage following the publication of Professor Alexis Jay’s report. This is detracting from the important issue, which should be everybody’s focus – the 1400 victims outlined in the report – and in providing support to victims and bringing to justice the criminals responsible for the atrocious crimes committed against them.
“With this in mind, I feel that it is now right, to step down from the position of Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, for the sake of those victims, for the sake of the public of South Yorkshire and to ensure that the important issues outlined in the report about tackling child sexual exploitation can be discussed and considered in full and without distraction.
“As I’ve previously stated, I entered into public service to make a positive difference in South Yorkshire. Protecting vulnerable people and particularly victims of child sexual exploitation has been my number one priority as Commissioner and much progress has been made over the last two years.
“My intention had always been to continue my work with South Yorkshire Police and partners in making all the necessary changes and improvements required to safeguard and support the victims of these horrific crimes, and indeed to protect further potential victims through preventative actions.”
Despite evidence the abuse was occurring, little was done, leading to accusations the police and local officials had turned a blind eye for fear of being labelled racist.
The abuse occurred between 1997 and 2013. Wright was head of Rotherham council’s children’s services for five years until 2010 before being elected as watchdog for the local police.
Theresa May, the UK’s home secretary, said she was pleased Wright had stepped down: “It is right that where people failed in their duty they should take responsibility. The police and local council failed the victims of these awful crimes and failed the people of Rotherham.”
Police commissioners were brought in by Cameron’s government in 2010 to oversee the work of police forces and set their priorities.
May herself has faced criticism that there was no mechanism in place for ministers or anyone else to sack them.