County Hall’s former leader Geoff Driver was accused of having a “racist attitude” as a debate on child sex abuse descended into mud-slinging.
Councillors became embroiled in a series of heated clashes yesterday as the authority tried to formulate a policy to ensure the grooming and exploitation scandal uncovered in Rotherham earlier this year can never happen in Lancashire.
Tory chief Coun Driver put forward a motion calling for an assurance that all allegations of sexual exploitation would be investigated “regardless of the ethnicity of the alleged perpetrators.” But he was attacked by Coun Azhar Ali who said his views were “akin to something Nick Griffin would make in the BNP.”
And fellow Labour member John Fillis accused Coun Driver of trying to narrow the problem down to specific groups, saying he was showing a “racist attitude.”
Tempers flared at the full council meeting as both Coun Driver and Labour’s Coun Matthew Tomlinson submitted different motions on the same subject. The debate became so fractious that chairman Coun Kevin Ellard was forced to call for calm.
Coun Tomlinson asked the council to recognise that child sexual exploitation affected all communities, irrespective of race, ethnicity or social background. He was supported by fellow Labour member Coun Mohammed Iqbal.
But Coun Driver accused both Coun Ali and Coun Iqbal of being “in denial.” He said: “From what happened in Rotherham, 90 per cent were from the Pakistan heritage community. The problem was allowed to get worse and worse because people didn’t recognise that and refused to face up to it.”
Coun Driver’s motion was rejected in favour of Labour’s.