A British council at the centre of a child sexual exploitation scandal has been condemned for giving a £40,000 pay-off to an official who quit following a damning report into the events.
Rotherham Borough Council disclosed the payment to former strategic director of children’s services Joyce Thacker in response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
The council said it had reached a mutual agreement with Mrs Thacker on the termination of her contract and the sum was “less than the contractual notice requirement”.
But Keith Vaz, the chairman of an influential Commons committee that has looked into the Rotherham scandal, said he was “astounded” by the deal and called for the money to be repaid.
The scale of the abuse in Rotherham was revealed in August this year when Professor Alexis Jay published a report which outlined how at least 1,400 children had been sexually exploited between 1997 and 2003 and questioned why highly placed public figures had not tackled the problem.
Home Affairs Select Committee chairman Mr Vaz said: “I am astounded that taxpayers’ money has been used in what will be seen as a reward for the failures of Rotherham Council.
“The committee recommended Joyce Thacker, and others, resign for their inaction in light of the huge number of child sexual abuse cases. It was inappropriate of her to accept such a large sum when she left.
“I hope action will be taken to ensure that this money is repaid, and that large pay offs cannot be given under similar circumstances in the future.”
In its response to the FOI request, Rotherham Council said: “The Council reached a mutual agreement on the early termination of Mrs Thacker’s contract.
“The agreement was for payment of £40,000 which was less than the contractual notice entitlement.”
News of the deal with Mrs Thacker came as Mr Vaz’s committee called for an urgent investigation into whether public officials sought to cover up the extent of the scandal.
A former researcher employed by the council claimed an unknown person gained access to her office and stole files – set to be passed to the Home Office - detailing failures in tackling child sexual exploitation.
The committee demanded “a full, transparent and urgent” inquiry and called on the Home Office to do “everything in its power” to locate any missing files in its possession relating to child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Rotherham and other places.
Elsewhere, the committee presented proposals for introducing a power of recall for police and crime commissioners (PCCs) after South Yorkshire PCC Shaun Wright initially refused to resign despite his clear links to the failures exposed at Rotherham Borough Council.
Mr Vaz said: “The proliferation of revelations about files which can no longer be located gives rise to public suspicion of a deliberate cover-up.
“The only way to address these concerns is with a full, transparent and urgent investigation.
“The Home Office must do everything in its power to locate any missing files in its possession relating to child sexual exploitation in Rotherham and other places.”
In September, the committee took evidence in private from a former researcher who was employed by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council between 2000 and 2002 as a research and development officer working on a Home Office-funded pilot on an initiative called Tackling Prostitution: What Works?
She was employed to research and develop measures to disrupt the activities of the men targeting young women.
In April 2002, the researcher submitted some data and statistical information to the Home Office evaluators, who were expected to provide a report to the Home Office on the progress of the pilot.
The draft report contained severe criticisms of the agencies in Rotherham involved with CSE, with the most serious alleging “indifference” towards child sexual exploitation on the part of senior managers.
It is then claimed an unknown person accessed her office and removed all data relating to the Home Office work. There were no signs of a forced entry and the action involved moving through key-coded and locked security doors.
In its report, the committee said: “This is not the first case in which it has been alleged that files of information relating to child sexual exploitation have disappeared.”
An internal Home Office inquiry is being overseen by NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless and Richard Whittam QC – but the probe has not yet started.
Mr Vaz added: “We found it shocking that evidence of child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was ignored by both Rotherham Council and South Yorkshire Police.
“A number of individuals attempted to bring these crimes to light, only to face obstacles from the council and police, which in some cases questioned their credibility and the veracity of their claims.
“If the council and police had taken these warnings seriously, the abusers could have been brought to justice more quickly and some of the later victims could have been spared their ordeal.”