Allison Pearson, Telegraph
What is the worst moment in Three Girls, the new BBC One three-part drama based on the Rochdale child-grooming scandal?
Is it when Holly realises that “Daddy”, a gross, 59-year-old Pakistani brute she met in a kebab shop, is expecting sex in return for all the chips and vodka he’s given her? “It’s part of the deal,” he explains, as he hauls himself onto the child’s cringing body. By the time he’s finished, Holly’s face has aged a thousand years.
Is it when Holly (played by the wonderful Molly Windsor) goes to the police seeking protection from Daddy (“Look, you’re my bitch now – if you cross me, I’ll kill you”) and the detective yawns extravagantly before pointing out that, if Holly had been raped, as she claims: “You don’t go back for more, do you?”
Is it when Holly and the other girls are driven to a flat where a group of Pakistani men gather round them, as if they were heifers at a cattle market, and they are told which man to service.
Is it when a social worker talks to Holly’s distraught parents about their daughter’s “lifestyle choice” and blithely informs them that the underage girl is working as a prostitute? Or how about that bit where the Rochdale police decide that, despite the industrial-scale sexual abuse in their town, they have “insufficient evidence” to prosecute Holly’s tormentors?
Any of the above is enough to make you scream and shout at the TV.
Just as Sara Rowbotham (Maxine Peake), a real-life Rochdale sexual health worker, ranted until she was hoarse at police and social workers, demanding they use their powers to stop the gangs. Three Girls politely (and unfairly) calls them “Asian gangs”, but these were Muslim men of Pakistani origin (bar one, who was from Afghanistan), often married with children, who regarded white working-class girls as easy meat, because they’re “hanging about on street corners with their chests hanging out”.
It’s not altogether surprising that men who hail from repressive, misogynist rural Pakistan would think schoolgirls from poor, unstable families who drank alcohol were “slags”. What is profoundly shocking, and unforgivable in the highest degree, is that British authorities shared that despicable attitude.
In the week that the foul fiend Ian Brady died, let’s ponder the fact that, as recently as 2010, girls from Rochdale were being taken up to Saddleworth Moor, where Brady and Myra Hindley buried their victims, to be gang-raped by taxi drivers and kebab-house waiters who pushed their victims out of the car after they were done with them and let them stagger home miles through the South Pennines.
Sara Rowbotham recalls one 14-year-old who had petrol poured on her by a man in his forties; he threatened to set her on fire unless she performed a sex act on him. This is not some grainy Sixties footage of unimaginable depravity far distant from us; this is England now.
Three Girls is definitely not comfortable prime-time viewing, and all credit to the BBC for giving it the prominence it deserves. Many viewers will feel it’s simply too distressing to watch but, before you change channel, remind yourself that turning the other way is exactly what allowed thousands of girls across this country to be raped and terrorised with impunity for more than three decades.
Just as Ken Loach’s Cathy Come Home spoke out on behalf of the homeless in 1966, so Three Girls bears eloquent witness to this vast, suppurating national scandal, lending a voice to brutalised children whose suffering was considered lesser because they came from “chaotic homes”.
This de facto apartheid still operated when the first case in Rochdale finally came to trial in 2012. Amber, one of the three girls in the title who provided vital testimony to nail the nine bastards in the dock, was regarded as too coarse to go down well with a jury. In order that the girl’s evidence could be used, the police simply added her name to the charge sheet. Watch Amber’s face as she tries to process the fact that she was ranked alongside the same rapists and paedophiles who stole her childhood.
In 2014, a report by Professor Alexis Jay concluded that at least 1,400 children had been raped in Rochdale by a network of British-Pakistani men.
Failure to address the abuse was attributed to a toxic combination of race, class and gender: fear that the unmasking of so many Muslim perpetrators would damage race relations as well as bringing accusations of racism; contemptuous and sexist attitudes towards white, working-class victims; the council’s shameful reluctance to challenge a Labour-voting ethnic minority (gang-raped girls being a small price to pay for electoral success, obviously).
During the trial in Three Girls, a reporter is challenged over the “uncomfortable” story of “dark-skinned abusers and white victims. You must admit it’s a gift for the BNP.” The drama’s writer, Nicole Taylor, said she felt confident that it “would not give far-Right groups the opportunity to further their agenda”.
Sorry, but isn’t that part of the problem? It shouldn’t be considered “far Right” to raise legitimate concerns about the epidemic of mainly Pakistani grooming gangs across the UK. There seems to be no end to the horror.
It seems brutally clear that certain men from a sexually repressed “honour” culture are happy to slake their lust on young white girls whom they regard as subhuman. When their community fails to integrate, or to at least expose its boys to values that are acceptable in an equal, 21st-century society, then you have a recipe for disaster.
In passing, Three Girls reveals that Holly’s lovely, broken dad briefly joined the BNP. Pass the smelling salts! But are we really surprised? Given that all the people in Rochdale, who were supposed to protect his daughter, treated her with the same contempt as “Daddy” when he yanked off her jeans to collect his “part of the deal”.
I’m afraid it’s hard not to conclude that some of the most vulnerable children in our country, the so-called “poor white trash”, have been sacrificed on the altar of multiculturalism. The police and social workers who betrayed them went unprosecuted, many of their abusers still stroll the streets, alarmed politicians cower behind “Islamophobia” and hope it all goes away.
If it achieves nothing else, the devastating and deeply moving Three Girls shows those young women that they matter and they are not forgotten. As one female detective says, the lesson is clear: “We treat them like human beings and we say we’re sorry.”