It was hailed as the pinnacle of investigative journalism, worthy of any and every prize: the story from Andrew Norfolk, that a “grooming gang” operating in the South Yorkshire town of Rotherham had been allowed to carry on its abuse of young girls as the Police were supposedly afraid of being called out as racist. It was the spark that lit the “Muslim grooming gang” bonfire, a dream come true for the far right.
But then Norfolk overreached himself, most notably with the “Muslim Fostering” story, which was initially single-sourced, the claims made, despite the Times being backed up by equally hostile coverage in the Sun and Daily Mail, falling apart under the least scrutiny.
Still, there was a Government investigation going on, courtesy of the Home Office. This, surely, would provide the “overwhelming evidence” of what the Murdoch press called “a deeply rooted pattern of criminal behaviour with a clear ethnic component”. It appears that investigators went looking for evidence to back up this claim. But they did not find it.
The report, “Group-Based Child Sexual Exploitation”, released this week, has concluded simply “Based on the literature it is not possible to draw any conclusions as to whether some ethnicities have a greater involvement in group-based offending compared with others”. That comes after two years poring over available data. And there is more.
The problem was that, in the period after Norfolk’s first revelations, a narrative has been allowed to take hold, aided and abetted by bad faith actors like Quilliam, which made a series of claims that, ultimately, even they could not sustain, and from which they unsuccessfully attempted to climb down. So where is our free and fearless press today?
As if you need to ask: they mostly aren’t. The Mail has tried to suggest it was still the Scary Muslims™ wot done it. At the increasingly alt-right Spectator, Patrick “lunchtime” O’Flynn says it’s all about a struggle between Priti Patel and her civil servants, and the latter are at fault for not coming up with the evidence to prove the pre-ordained conclusion. The Guardian and Independent have a straight news take; other outlets haven’t bothered.
Brian Cathcart and Paddy French, whose investigation into Andrew Norfolk’s work caused the Murdoch press such discomfort, have covered the release of the Home Office report, and have asked The Great Man to respond. The result sums up the whole sorry saga.
“Andrew Norfolk was approached for comment but did not respond”. No surprise there.