Two current Rotherham Council managers are being investigated after it was claimed they were among a small number of people able to access a locked office where key child abuse files were stolen in 2002.
Allegations were made to MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee that Christine Broadhurst-Brown, who is the council’s head of integrated youth support services and Kerry Byrne, a partnership and youth development manager, were among ‘very few’ people who had access to the office of a council researcher who was investigating the activities of grooming gangs.
Rotherham Council said today it was aware of what MPs have been told and is ‘taking steps to fully investigate the allegations made’.
MPs on the select committee have called for an urgent investigation into what happened to the files after hearing from the former researcher and Jayne Senior, a former project manager at the Risky Business sexual exploitation initiative – the organisation where the files were stolen.
Minutes of the private hearing in which the pair gave evidence have now been published.
The researcher told MPs that ‘very few’ people had access to the office.
Ms Senior said: “There would have been myself, xx [the researcher], a part-time admin worker and there would have been Christine Broadhurst-Brown at the end of the project, and before the end of the project Kerry Byrne was managing the project and she had a key for the filing cabinet as well.”
The researcher said when her and Ms Senior had discovered the files had been taken over the course of the weekend, with no sign of forced entry, Christine Broadhurst-Brown had suggested there was no need to call the police about the matter ‘because it hadn’t been a break in’.
Rotherham Council chief executive Martin Kimber is currently carrying out an internal investigation into the missing files.
The council has also promised to co-operate with a forthcoming independent inquiry due to be launched by the National Crime Agency, which is due to include a criminal investigation into whether any Rotherham Council staff or councillors should be charged with misconduct in public office.
A Rotherham Council spokesman said: “The council is aware of the information referred to and is taking steps to fully investigate the allegations made.
“The council will co-operate fully with the National Crime Agency’s independent investigation.”
The select committee said the theft of the files – as well as reports of other key Rotherham child abuse documents going missing – meant that an investigation is needed due to ‘public suspicion of a deliberate cover-up’.
The committee said a draft report written by the researcher in 2002 while she was based in the offices of the Risky Business child sexual exploitation project at the Rotherham International Centre had contained ‘severe criticisms’ of organisations responsible for tackling the issue.
It said her report alleged senior managers treated child sexual exploitation with ‘indifference’ and ‘ignorance’ – with victims being given the blame for relationships rather than suspected abusers.
In her written evidence to the committee, the researcher said fake minutes of meetings that had not happened were also added to her computer during the raid. She said she had been abroad on one of the dates of the false meetings.
It follows Professor Alexis Jay, who ran the Rotherham abuse inquiry, revealing four years of meeting minutes about child sexual exploitation in the town have also disappeared.
Council leader Paul Lakin has previously said he was ‘extremely concerned’ about the issue of the missing files and has ordered a ‘thorough internal investigation’.