Former home secretary Jack Straw has accused some Pakistani men in Britain of seeing white girls as “easy meat” for sexual abuse.
The Blackburn MP talked of a “specific problem” involving Pakistani men and called on the community to be “more open” about the issue.
He was speaking after two Asian men who subjected a series of vulnerable girls to rapes and sexual assaults were given indefinite jail terms.
Abid Mohammed Saddique, 27, was jailed for a minimum of 11 years at Nottingham Crown Court and Mohammed Romaan Liaqat, 28, was told he must serve at least eight years before being considered for release.
The men were the prime movers in a group of men who befriended girls aged from 12 to 18 in the Derby area and groomed them for sex.
Mr Straw told the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “Pakistanis, let’s be clear, are not the only people who commit sexual offences, and overwhelmingly the sex offenders’ wings of prisons are full of white sex offenders.
“But there is a specific problem which involves Pakistani heritage men . . . who target vulnerable young white girls.
“We need to get the Pakistani community to think much more clearly about why this is going on and to be more open about the problems that are leading to a number of Pakistani heritage men thinking it is OK to target white girls in this way.”
The judge said he did not believe the crimes were “racially aggravated”, but Mr Straw said he thought vulnerable white girls were at risk of being targeted by some Asian men.
“These young men are in a western society, in any event, they act like any other young men, they’re fizzing and popping with testosterone, they want some outlet for that, but Pakistani heritage girls are off-limits and they are expected to marry a Pakistani girl from Pakistan, typically,” he said.
“So they then seek other avenues and they see these young women, white girls who are vulnerable, some of them in care . . . who they think are easy meat.
“And because they’re vulnerable they ply them with gifts, they give them drugs, and then of course they’re trapped.”
Yesterday’s sentencing came a day after Prime Minister David Cameron said “cultural sensitivities” should not hinder police action in such cases.
Speaking yesterday during a visit to Oldham, Mr Cameron told The Times: “We should not be put off by cultural sensitivities or anything like that. Pursue the evidence, pursue criminality wherever it leads.”
Thirteen men were charged in relation to Operation Retriever, which Derbyshire Police set up, and 11 stood trial charged with offences relating to 26 alleged victims.
Mr Straw’s comments drew criticism from senior Labour colleague Keith Vaz–who said it was wrong to “stereotype a whole community” and questioned why the ex-home secretary had not spoken out previously.
The Leicester East MP, who chairs the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said he did not believe there was a “cultural problem” and called for a high-level investigation of such grooming across the UK.
“I disagree with Jack Straw,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“I have a lot of Pakistanis in my constituency, so does Jack Straw. I don’t think this is a cultural problem.
“We can’t ignore the facts of individual cases, but against what Jack says–and he is a very close friend and I will talk to him about this on Monday–is what the judge said in the Derby case, for example.
“I don’t think you can stereotype an entire community. What you can do is look at the facts of these national cases, give it to an agency, make a proper investigation and see how we can deal with these networks of people who are involved in this horrendous crime.”
He went on: “One can accept the evidence that is put before us about patterns of networks but to go that step further is pretty dangerous.
“Why didn’t Jack Straw say something about this? He has represented Blackburn for 31 years, he has been the home secretary. Why was it left to organisations like Barnardo’s and an investigation in The Times for us to be talking about this?
“What we have here is a serious problem which deals with terrible criminality and that’s why what I have suggested is that it should be taken further by a proper investigation on a national basis, either by Ceop (The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre) or the Serious and Organised Crime Agency (Soca).
Barnardo’s chief executive Martin Narey said street grooming was “probably happening in most towns and cities” and was not confined to the Pakistani community.
“I certainly don’t think this is a Pakistani thing. My staff would say that there is an over-representation of people from minority ethnic groups–Afghans, people from Arabic nations–but it’s not just one nation.”
Retired detective chief superintendent Max McLean, who led a previous police investigation into sexual exploitation involving the grooming and trafficking of young girls in Leeds, also questioned the suggestion of a cultural problem.
“I’m not suggesting, and I do not think anybody is, that it is a problem within a community,” he told Today.
“What I am saying is that, when you take a crime type–street grooming–and see that the vast majority of people convicted are from a particular community, then there appears something we should do about those offenders.
“But that is the very danger, that we say that all street groomers are Asian men. What we have found is that our investigations have led to convictions, generally speaking, for this type of crime.
“That is a slightly different thing and it is incumbent on the police and professionals to engage with communities where we identify those offenders to see if their are preventative opportunities.”