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British liberals struggle with racial aspect of sex rings, says Labour MP

Sarah Champion, who lost her shadow cabinet position last month, attacks the left for their approach to abuse cases

Labour MP Sarah Champion
Labour MP Sarah Champion

A former Labour shadow cabinet minister who was sacked from the party’s frontbench for her outspoken remarks about the Pakistani community in the UK has claimed the British left is “failing to confront the truth about sex crimes” in the country.

Sarah Champion, who represents the northern town of Rotherham, which was at the centre of a child sex ring exposed in 2011 by The Times newspaper, was removed by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn after an article she wrote for The Sun, a right-wing tabloid which is a stablemate of The Times, which said Britain “[had] a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls”.

The article came in the wake of the convictions of 17 men of Asian and Middle Eastern origin in Newcastle on Tyne last month for their roles in a sex abuse ring in which more than 100 adolescent girls and young women were sexually exploited over a four-year period between 2010-14.

Now Ms Champion, the former shadow minister for women and equalities, has broken her silence since she left her post on August 16. Talking to The Times, she refused to back down on her previous remarks.

“It’s not an opinion [about Pakistani men], although people would like it to be,” she told the newspaper’s Andrew Norfolk, who himself exposed many cases of child sexual exploitation over the last 10 years. “It’s based on the facts of this very specific form of grooming of girls by gangs of men.

“It’s a very consistent model of recruitment, manipulation and exploitation, and when you look at the figures of the people who’ve been arrested and convicted, the vast, vast majority are British-Pakistani men.”

Champion continued: “For too long we have ignored the race of these abusers and, worse, tried to cover it up. We have to have grown-up conversations, however unpalatable, or in six months’ time we will be having this same scenario all over again.”

The MP also highlighted the growing gulf between two traditions in Labour, the conservative and traditionalist heartlands such as in Rotherham and across northern counties such as Yorkshire and Lancashire, and the more metropolitan strand represented by MPs from London and other cities.

“If I’m on the floppy left, to be accused of racism is probably the worst thing you can call me. That fear will motivate me to step away from a lot of topics I’d maybe tackle head on if I didn’t have that phobia,” she told the newspaper.

Many Labour members and politicians in London had “never been challenged by a reality that’s different” from their largely “tolerant, multicultural world”, Champion said.

“London is not representative of the UK and it’s definitely not representative of the north of England in relation to race. Rotherham and many post-industrial towns are still segregated.”

Her remarks were criticised by fellow Labour MP Neil Coyle, who represents the London constituency of Bermondsey and old Southwark, who branded them “lazy dismissive nonsense”.

A spokesperson for Jeremy Corbyn said: “Sexual abuse is an extremely serious crime that requires effective action to tackle it. To do so, we must focus on the perpetrators and how we can prevent grooming of women and girls.

“These heinous crimes are committed by people of all backgrounds. Stigmatising entire communities is wrong, and damages the interests of victims of sexual abuse and the rigorous investigation into the underlying causes of that abuse.”

Updated: September 2, 2017 10:43 PM