British police boss at centre of 16-year child sex scandal quits

LONDON (Reuters) - A official who for weeks defied a barrage of calls to quit over his role in a 16-year sex abuse scandal involving some 1,400 children finally bowed to pressure and resigned on Tuesday.

Mr Shaun Wright was in charge of children's services in the northern English town of Rotherham for some of the period when children, some as young as 11, were abducted, raped, beaten and abused in other ways. He was later elected Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, the area covering Rotherham, and faced calls to resign when an independent report was released last month detailing failures by the police and the local authority for which he worked.

For weeks he clung on to his job in the face of the almost universal criticism, including from British Prime Minister David Cameron and relatives of victims. He said he had known nothing about the abuse while in his former post, and the prevention of child sexual exploitation had been his number one priority in his new police role.

But on Tuesday, he announced he had quit, saying the focus on him was detracting from providing support to victims of the abuse in Rotherham and bringing those responsible to justice. "With this in mind, I feel that it is now right to step down... for the sake of those victims, for the sake of the public of South Yorkshire and to ensure that the important issues outlined in the report about tackling child sexual exploitation can be discussed and considered in full," he said in a statement.

Last month's report said huge numbers of children, mainly white girls in social care homes, were sexually abused by gangs of predominantly Asian men and that some were trafficked to other cities across northern England to be gang-raped.

It found children had been threatened with guns, made to witness rapes and even doused in petrol and warned they would be set alight.

Despite evidence the abuse was occurring, little was done, leading to accusations the police and local officials had turned a blind eye for fear of being labelled racist.

The abuse occurred between 1997 and 2013. Mr Wright was head of Rotherham council's children's services for five years until 2010 before being elected as watchdog for the local police.

Mr Cameron, Home Secretary Theresa May and Ed Miliband, the leader of the opposition Labour Party that Mr Wright had represented until he resigned his membership amid the furore, were among those who called for him to resign.

At one public meeting, the grandfather of an alleged victim told Mr Wright: "If I had a gun, I would shoot you."

The sister of a teenager stabbed to death in 2010 said Mr Wright was to blame for murder. "You let us be groomed... You should be out or dead," she said at the meeting.

Ms May said she was pleased Mr Wright had stepped down. "It is right that where people failed in their duty they should take responsibility," she said in a statement. "The police and local council failed the victims of these awful crimes and failed the people of Rotherham."

Police commissioners were brought in by Mr Cameron's government in 2010 to oversee the work of police forces and set their priorities. Ms May herself has faced criticism that there was no mechanism in place for ministers or anyone else to sack them.