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The former chancellor blamed “political correctness” for the country’s failure to get to grips with the crime.
Mr Sunak, a father of two daughters, promised to introduce a “brand new life sentence” for those involved in child grooming with “very limited options for parole”.
He said: “I’m not going to let political correctness stand in the way of tackling this absolutely horrific crime.”
“I want to call it out for what it is and I want to tackle it properly. I have two young girls and I feel this very personally.”
His comments come amid concerns that in recent decades racial and ethnic sensitivities have been an obstacle to the detection and prosecution of sex crimes against children.
Mr Sunak said that authorities are “scared of calling out the fact” that there is a “particular group of people who are perpetuating these crimes”.
Pledging a new approach, he told GB News: “It’s a horrific crime. It’s far more pervasive across the country than actually we all realise. And we all know the reason that people don’t focus on it. It’s because of political correctness and they’re scared of calling out the fact.”
“There’s a particular group of people who are perpetuating these crimes, and I think that’s wrong and I want to change that as Prime Minister.”
“We’ll have a new task force at the National Crime Agency that is focused on this. We’ll have a requirement for police forces everywhere to prioritise this.”
“I want to make sure all police forces record the ethnicity of those involved, which currently is not done because people don’t want to do that.”
Mr Sunak’s intervention comes just weeks after an inquiry found evidence that child sex crimes in Telford, Shropshire, had been ignored, with more than 1,000 girls abused.
It reported that West Mercia Police allowed “a nervousness about race to become prevalent among officers” and “this led to a reluctance to police” parts of Wellington, four miles north-west of Telford.
Inquiry chairman Tom Crowther QC said it was a “dereliction of the police’s most basic duty” to allow considerations of race and ethnicity to “lead to a situation where certain streets are not patrolled, or where certain crimes are not investigated”.
Earlier this year, three women who were groomed and raped by gangs in Rochdale received damages and an apology for failings by Greater Manchester Police.
Mr Sunak, who was yesterday visiting the Isle of Wight as he continued his campaign for the Tory leadership, said: “A Conservative government should be not letting political correctness stand in the way of keeping people safe.”
Maggie Oliver, a former detective who resigned from the Manchester force in 2012 over its failure to tackle grooming gangs, welcomed the prospect of life sentences for perpetrators.
She turned whistleblower after leaving the force and her work led to the exposure of the Rochdale grooming gang.
However, she said that she feared Mr Sunak’s pledge was “headline grabbing” and warned it is unlikely to happen without a massive overhaul of the criminal justice system.
Ms Oliver, who first called for the recording of ethnicities of grooming gang suspects when she gave evidence to the Home Affairs committee in 2013, said: “The racial element of grooming gangs has been part of the reason this was neglected many years ago, and it has been buried.”
“But the problem goes much deeper than that and to just seize on that as a reason why these cases have not progressed is, quite frankly, naive in the extreme. I would welcome increased sentences but if prosecutions don’t go ahead it is not going to change much.”
Setting out the key problems, she said: “For 10 years I have been saying the system is not fit for purpose. There was no joined-up system, a lack of properly trained officers, a lack of communication and no accountability for the abusers who rape children on a daily basis. To me, this just smacks of a soundbite to gain votes.”
Ms Oliver said Mr Sunak’s focus on sentencing and the ethnicity of alleged groomers suggested that he did not appear to understand all the reasons why some prosecutions were not pursued.
She said: “Less than two percent of reported rapes make it to court and they are closing courts while barristers are on strike and there is a backlog of trials.”
“You have got police officers resigning in their droves and a vacuum of experience.”
The former detective said she wanted “chief constables to be legally held accountable when they fail to act”. She called for a Royal Commission to look at policing and of the criminal justice system.
Meanwhile, Tory figures remain divided over Mr Sunak’s admission that he had worked to divert funding from “deprived urban areas” towards more prosperous towns by changing funding formulas.
One supporter yesterday insisted the comments had been “misunderstood”.
Andrew Mitchell, MP for affluent Sutton Coldfield, said: “We will not be able to rejuvenate our town centre infrastructure without some taxpayer support.”
But Jake Berry, chairman of the Northern Research Group of Tory MPs, said that in public Mr Sunak “claims he wants to level up the north but here he boasts about trying to funnel vital investment away from deprived areas”.
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