Iram Ramzan interviewed Nazir Afzal for the Oldham Chronicle a few days ago.
Mr Afzal hopes Stockport MP Ann Coffey’s report into child abuse in Greater Manchester won’t deter victims from coming forward. But he doesn’t think the report does enough to highlight the achievements of his service.
Ms Coffey’s report suggested that the perceived attitudes of jurors caused the CPS to fail to charge suspects. She reported that in some cases the CPS highlighted the victim’s clothing, or that members of her own family had been derogatory about her behaviour, and that these facts had persuaded the CPS not to prosecute.
In the last six years 12,879 sexual offences against children were reported to GMP, but only 2,341 defendants were charged and 1,078 found guilty.
One of Mr Afzal’s first acts on becoming a chief crown prosecutor was to start prosecutions against the Rochdale grooming gang, overturning an earlier CPS decision.
He says the CPS record has improved a lot over the last three years.
“We’re in a better place. One of the things the report didn’t highlight was the conviction rate is the highest ever. I wouldn’t want anything to deter victims from coming forward.”
North-West figures show that in 2013-14, 194 of 288 child abuse cases were successfully prosecuted.
That’s a massive improvement.
Mr Afzal stresses the majority of sexual abuse occurs within the home – and by white perpetrators. The second largest incidence is online, the third is institutions — such as in schools — and finally comes street grooming: “It’s a sizeable but small group,” he added.
The judge sentencing the Rochdale gang told the defendants they preyed on girls because they weren’t part of their community or religion. But as Mr Afzal pointed out, Oldham defendant Shabir Ahmed was also convicted of the rape of a Pakistani girl.
Mr Afzal suggested the grooming gang preyed on vulnerability: “The perpetrators weren’t religious, they were men controlling women and girls. We need to stop getting distracted by ethnicity and focus on what this is — women and girls being abused, feeling they can’t talk about their experiences.”
And that’s far from being a monopoly of the religious.
“You don’t provoke rape by your dress, or the choices you make. You don’t provoke rape because you’re drinking. In no way is that an excuse for what that man does. The perpetrators are doing it because they want control. As a prosecutor I will make them face the consequences.”
He does believe women of south Asian and other minority backgrounds find it more difficult to speak out due to issues of honour and shame: “Asian victims don’t come forward — it doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We have to reach out to them.”
Mr Afzal said he has received strong support from Pakistani people since the Rochdale case.
The only offensive comments have been from the far right. “I damage their narrative,” he added.
As do women like Iram Ramzan and Tehmina Kazi. Damage that narrative! Damage it and then bury it.