Rotherham MP secures child grooming law change

Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham
Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham

Police will be able to act sooner in cases of child grooming after a Rotherham MP secured a change in the law.

It means a person who contacts a child and arranges to meet them with the intention of carrying out a sexual offence can immediately be convicted – when previously they had to be caught doing it twice.

Sarah Champion, Labour MP for Rotherham, lobbied for the amendment after working with charity Barnado’s to look at how the law protects children from sexual exploitation.

The minor amendment to a clause as part of the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill will help to protect children across the country from abuse.

Ms Champion, who was part of the bill committee in Parliament, said: “Police told us this went on and they literally had to sit on their hands until there was a second occurrence.

“They are delighted as now they will be able to intervense before a crime happens where previously they could not.”

Rotherham hit the headlines after leaked documents showed agencies had extensive knowledge of child grooming in the borough for years but failed to prosecute – triggering various inquiries.

But Ms Champion, who won her seat at a 2012 by-election dominated by the issue, said Rotherham was now ‘leading the way’ in terms of child protection.

She said: “In Rotherham now, we have a very good plan of protection and prevention, but in some other places there is nothing in place.

“Some places are so good at it, because they had something go wrong.

“It took a year but we got there.

“Apparently it is almost impossible for a backbencher MP to change the law, but because I never knew that I just kept on going.”

The Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is currently in the House of Lords and is set to become law in a few weeks.

The amendment means groomers sending out hundreds of messages to children on social media – with the intent that one will reply – could be dealt with immediately.

It has been welcomed by police and legal professionals who say it will help cut red tape that stops them from acting on information.

Joyce Thacker, Rotherham Council strategic director of children and young people’s services, said: “This is a positive step in helping to ensure the ongoing safety of, not only Rotherham’s children and young people, but the country’s.

“Congratulations to Sarah and Barnados’ for such an important breakthrough.”