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Special Investigation: ‘Muslim Grooming Gangs’ – An Old Conspiracy Mainstreamed by Today’s Politicians and Press

Part Three: In 2020, a two-year study of crime data and academic research by the Home Office concluded that ‘group-based offenders are most commonly white’

English Defence League (EDL) supporters march through Rochdale town centre in July 2017. Photo: Lee Thomas/Alamy

This investigation was first published in the May 2024 print edition of Byline Times

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The narrative of ‘Muslim grooming gangs’ entered the mainstream in 2011, when The Times published an exposé on a “conspiracy of silence on UK sex gangs”. According to experts, the story contained the two key planks that became central to the narrative: that Pakistani-heritage men were preying on white British girls, and that the authorities failed to intervene for fear of being branded racist.

In the years since, thousands of articles on ‘grooming gangs’ have been published by The Times and other newspapers – helped by endorsements from mainstream politicians. 

The issue was also given supposed scientific support through a ‘study’ by the controversial Quilliam Foundation. The now defunct group, once headed by conspiracy theorist Maajid Nawaz, claimed that it had found that “84% of grooming gang offenders are Asian”, in a piece of work dismissed as “shoddy pseudoscience” by academics for its failure to use complete data in its analysis.

In the narrative as told by groups such as Quilliam, the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation from Muslim backgrounds commit these crimes because of problematic beliefs in their culture and faith (while those from a white British background are individual deviants).


Special Investigation: ‘The Far-Right Is Cynically Taking Advantage of Child Sexual Exploitation Survivors’

Andrew Kersley spent five months speaking to survivors of child sexual exploitation and experts on the ‘grooming’ of vulnerable women by far-right groups to understand why it is happening

By extension, police failures in the cases of abusers from Muslim backgrounds are due to political correctness (while failures to deal with historic sex abuse by the likes of Jimmy Savile, for instance, are of a different order).

In 2020, a two-year study of crime data and academic research by the Home Office concluded that “group-based offenders are most commonly white” and that there was no credible evidence that one ethnic group is overrepresented in the perpetrators of child sexual exploitation.

Despite these findings, politicians have continued to discuss ‘Muslim grooming gangs’. One prominent example of this has been former Home Secretary Suella Braverman, who has repeatedly and baselessly claimed that south Asian Muslims account for a significant number of paedophile rings operating in the UK.

In September last year, the press regulator IPSO told the Mail on Sunday to amend an op-ed in which she claimed that “almost all” child grooming gangs are British-Pakistani.

When Byline Times asked the Home Office about the impact of Braverman’s comments, a spokesperson said that “child sex abusers can come from any walk of life” and insisted that her claims only related to the specific cases in Rotherham, Telford, and Rochdale.

But Nazir Afzal, the Crown Prosecution Service’s former lead on child sexual abuse, believes that Braverman’s intervention on the issue had a significant impact. 

“The far-right have got traction because of Braverman and others like her,” he told Byline Times. “When you have ministers, and the former Home Secretary, talking about this issue as being a ‘dividing line’ in our communities, that provides encouragement to those who are already exploiting it to continue.”

Dr Ella Cockbain, a University College London professor specialising in research on trafficking and child sexual abuse, agrees. She said there is “growing evidence” of the far-right actively seeking out survivors of child sexual exploitation, and their families, to exploit their trauma for its own gains.

“The deliberate spread of racialised stereotypes around child sexual abuse has been a gift to the far-right helping to mainstream and normalise what used to be fringe positions,” she told Byline Times.


Special Investigation: The Network of Far-Right Groups Exploiting the Survivors of Child Sexual Exploitation

Part Two: The interconnectedness of far-right groups reflects the extent to which those holding extreme beliefs have used the issue of child sexual exploitation to further their own ends

When far-right terrorist Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019 the words “for Rotherham” were painted on his gun. 

Eighty-one-year-old grandfather Mushin Ahmed was murdered as he walked to prayers at a mosque in a racially-motivated attack in Rotherham seemingly in response to the child sexual exploitation scandal in the town in 2015. 

Darren Osborne, who killed one person and injured nine others when he drove his van into a group outside London’s Finsbury Park Mosque, described a film about the Rochdale scandal as a “trigger”. He vowed to “kill all the Muslims” before committing his attack.

An Old Trope

Inaccurate stories about people from certain ethnic groups being more likely to rape white girls are the manifestation of a long-running trope masquerading as a ‘call to arms’ used by the far-right.

The high-profile scandals of on-street grooming in recent years, and the subsequent investigations into why such abuse went uncovered by authorities for so long – including claims of concerns about ‘political correctness’ – have seen it channelled into its modern form through concrete examples of perpetrators of colour and injustice.

“The far-right have long sought to capitalise on the issue of on-street grooming by gangs,” Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles told Byline Times

“In 2004, the British National Party (BNP) gained several seats on Bradford Council by exploiting local anger that accompanied revelations that as many as 65 girls had been abused in Keighley. 

“The following year, BNP Leader Nick Griffin made the issue the focus of his campaign to win the parliamentary seat of Keighley. Fortunately, he failed miserably, largely because Hope Not Hate was able to enlist the support of the woman leading the campaign to tighten up the law to protect survivors. 

“Through a Hope not Hate tabloid, which was distributed to all 35,000 homes in the constituency, she explained how Griffin and the BNP were exploiting her daughter’s story for its racist aims, whilst offering no practical solutions to the issue. Her intervention made all the difference and Griffin came a distant third in the election with just 9% of the vote.

“Over the next 15 years, we have seen the English Defence League, Britain First, and other far-right groups try to exploit the issue with repeated demonstrations and protests in towns like Rotherham, Rochdale, and Telford. They use the issue to whip up racism, disregarding the needs and wishes of the young women who have been abused. 

“They have, however, forced police and councils to spend millions in ensuring the protests pass off peacefully, and in doing so diverting money and resources from the services that would actually help the survivors of abuse.”


Special Investigation: Society’s Reluctance to Acknowledge the Scale of Child Sexual Abuse and a Lack of Political Support for Its Survivors is Keeping the Vulnerable At Risk

Part Four: The far-right is able to present itself as ‘filling the gap’ left by a lack of services with its own range of ‘support’ for survivors

Each crime of child sexual exploitation is horrific, and it is a fact that there are paedophiles from Muslim backgrounds perpetrating abuse. But to focus on the issue solely as a ‘Muslim’ issue, leaves a significant swathe of cases – at the hands of non-Muslim abusers – insufficiently recognised as symptoms of a much wider national crisis.

While this investigation has uncovered how a new, more organised, far-right is, once again, leaving survivors of child sexual exploitation at risk, the fact is that a growing number of survivors are choosing to engage with such groups. 

To understand why, experts believe that, as a society, we must confront our continued unwillingness to acknowledge the complexity and scale of child sexual abuse in Britain – and the lack of support services in place to help those who have been through the most traumatic experiences to come to terms with their pasts.

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