Making a Monster: How The Times Created the Asian ‘Grooming Gang’
By J. Spooner & J.Stubbs
𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮 “BBC Radio News with Julie Candler: Six members of a grooming-gang were convicted for a combined total of 87 years in Birmingham Crown Court today for offences against twelve girls, ranging in ages from 12 to 16. In sentencing, Judge Ferguson accused the evil gang members of preying on the vulnerable young girls from local care homes, to whom they had done irreparable damage.”𝅘𝅥𝅮𝅘𝅥𝅮
Close your eyes. Visualise the appearance of the groomers. What ethnicity are they?
The fictional BBC Radio example serves to illustrate the power of the media to inject racial biases into the collective consciousness. The imported dark-skinned savages with uncontrollable libidos preying on white girls trope has been a mainstay of white supremacist propaganda throughout. Having existed solely on the radical fringes of the right, UK newspaper The Times have helped elevate this stereotype into the mainstream with their creation of the Asian “grooming gang”.
Their method of manipulation is helped explained by The Blind Men and the Elephant, an ancient Hindu parable which describes a number of blind men who have never encountered an elephant before, each touching a different section of an elephant’s body to learn what an elephant is. Naturally, each man, limited in his knowledge to the tail, or the leg or the tusk and so on, differs in his subjective truths to the next man. No man has complete context as each man has his perception limited.
It is in this manner, but by design, that The Times has implanted the racial stereotype of the Asian grooming-gang into our national psyche. They have achieved this through lying-by-omission, race-specific application of terms, and zooming in on crimes by British Asians while simultaneously zooming out on crimes by white British.
Whether it be right-wing media promoting this racially-fueled connotation, or left-wing outlets protesting against it, the term ‘Grooming Gang’ is now used across the board. But how objective is it really? How much do we really know about this specific label? What are the caveats for this term to be applied? Where did the term come from? We know from our previous research on the fraudulent 2017 Quilliam report, that there are groups of white offenders grooming and sexually assaulting children, but are these considered ‘Grooming Gangs’ as well? And if so, more importantly, where are all these white ‘grooming gangs’?
Origins of the Asian Grooming Gang
On the 5th of January, 2011, The Times newspaper launched an exclusive four-page exposé on the “sexual exploitation of hundreds of young British girls by criminal pimping gangs”. The article claimed that “child protection experts” had identified a separate category of sex offending which The Times labelled “on-street grooming”, and that within this profile “most of the victims are white” and that “most of the convicted offenders are of Pakistani heritage”. The politically-conservative newspaper revealed that its own investigation even had the statistics to back these findings up. The exclusive declared:
“The Times has identified 17 court prosecutions since 1997, 14 of them during the past three years, involving the on-street grooming of girls aged 11 to 16 by groups of men. The victims came from 13 towns and cities and in each case two or more men were convicted of offences.In total, 56 people, with an average age of 28, were found guilty of crimes including rape, child abduction, indecent assault and sex with a child. Three of the 56 were white, 53 were Asian. Of those, 50 were Muslim and a majority were members of the British Pakistani community…”
Inevitably, within no time, the story had ignited national hysteria. Over the following days, all major news outlets covered the story, as well as radio talk-back shows and websites. That same week, The Times doubled down heavily, with further front page ‘scoops’, opinion pieces, web-chats and letters to the editor all relating back to the initial investigation. From our counting, they ran at least twenty articles on the topic of ‘on-street grooming’ in the following seven days to accompany their initial exclusive. Among the many others who pounced on this story, the Daily Mail ran seven articles in the following twelve days all referring back to the alleged Asian connection discovered by The Times.
Astutely, the Times’ investigation was released in the same week as the conclusion of a high profile court case, in which a group of Asian males were sentenced for CSE related offences. Needless to say, the media went even further into overdrive. BBC Newsnight ran a special where former Home Secretary Jack Straw warned that white British girls were being targeted as “easy meat” by their British-Pakistani predators. The Times continued, relentlessly pushing articles reiterating the ethnic connection between ‘on-street grooming’ and British-Pakistani men in a manner which the Huffington Post later described as a “desperate” effort “to see the ‘Asian model’ recognised as a distinct category of CSE”. They also wasted no time getting hold of British PM David Cameron, at the first opportunity drawing comments from him in which he gave his support to “pursue pimp gangs ‘without fear or favour’”.
Within the space of a month, the new head of Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Command was stood in front of his funders at the Home Office, promising to focus further research and resources to “concerns originally exposed in The Times”. The following is a transcript of this conversation at the House of Commons meeting between the Home Affairs Committee and CEOP head Peter Davies, just three weeks following The Times’ exclusive:
Chair: Indeed, I think you made that very clear. Can I move on to a current piece of work that you’re doing, the issue of child grooming? Following the public concerns originally exposed in The Times newspaper, was it you who decided to conduct this research or did the Home Office ask you to conduct the investigation into child grooming?
Peter Davies: I decided that it was part of CEOP’s role to understand problems such as this and it was my decision.
Chair: So you read about it in the newspapers; you saw the controversy and you decided that there should be an investigation?
Peter Davies: That was one of the elements. There were other elements going on at the time as well that prompted the decision. But yes, it was my decision.
In a clear example of media influence shaping official responses, just after this meeting CEOP launched its first investigation into ‘localised grooming’.
Following this came another CEOP report in 2013, undertaken alongside further Home Affairs Committee investigations and Government recommendations. Davies’ arm was being twisted by the combined forces of Rupert Murdoch and the British tabloid press to react, not to child sexual exploitation holistically, but to this new menace, whose crimes were uniquely Asian. Yet what makes this influence even more striking, and what went largely unnoticed, is that The Times’ original investigation was intrinsically flawed.
The investigation was heavily criticised by the very experts whose research The Times had cited, or “de-contextualised” in an attempt to add weight to their own report — sexual exploitation and human trafficking researchers at University College London, Dr Ella Cockbain and Helen Brayley. Within two days of the story breaking and their research cited within it, Cockbain and Brayley wrote to The Times, warning their readers to not “to be blinded by this emergent and untested racial stereotype”, which was crudely being exploited by The Times. Furthermore, additional criticisms of the investigation were:
- 17 cases over 14 years did not make up the “tidal wave” of offending that it stated was taking place.
- The investigation failed to justify or explain how it came to decide on their criteria for selecting some cases and not others.
- The criteria eventually chosen appeared biased towards Asian offenders. Almost like the author looked at where Asian offenders were most prevalent, and based his criteria on what their offending all had in common.
- The investigation relied on taking the author/researcher at his word on his results, rather than showing any clear methodology or evidence of data gathering.
- The author/researcher only included cases he could ‘identify’, whatever that means.
Dr Cockbain herself made the following remarks referring to The Times investigation:
“Findings from an exploratory academic study were cited in support, despite the authors publicly emphasising that their (unpublished) work, focusing on two cases alone, had been de-contextualised and deliberately ‘over-extended to characterise an entire crime type”
“ These inclusion parameters (of the Times Investigation) have never been explained or justified, despite the questionable decision to exclude male victims wholesale. This raises the question as to whether the statistical exercise was deliberately designed to isolate evidence for a predetermined ‘Asian model”
Cockbain pondered if The Times had set out to purposely manipulate their research as to fix the results to isolate only Asian offenders. In another piece, she and fellow CSE specialist Brayley lamented The Times as being “the inventor of the spurious crime category of ‘on-street grooming’”.
Similarly, Libby Brooks of the Guardian lashed out at shoddy nature of the investigation, stating:
“The efforts of the Times to stand up this investigation are certainly considerable: selectively quoting or misquoting some groups, and inventing a category of “on-street grooming” that does not exist in law and was not recognised by any of the agencies I spoke to. It is also worth asking how responsible it is to provide ammunition to the violent racist extremists already active in these areas on such flawed evidence.”
Additionally, from our own research, we have found multiple cases of white offenders convicted in ‘on-street grooming’ incidents that that The Times apparently could not. Even though their investigation failed to justify the parameters used for the cases it selected, we believe that we have found many cases of white offenders which still fit within them. Yet The Times’s investigation curiously declared:
“With the exception of one case involving two white men in Blackburn, The Times has been unable to identify any court case in which two or more white British, Kurdish, African-Caribbean or Bangladeshi men have been convicted of child-sex offences linked to on-street grooming.”
We found ample evidence to the contrary. The following are a few, but not all, of the cases we believe were either ignored or incompetently ‘not identified’ by The Times:
In a nutshell, The Times orchestrated public outrage and facilitated government responses via a relentless campaign that revolved around a highly flawed investigation and a self-invented category of CSE. When referring to the investigation and its follow ups, The Times would later boast, taking credit for their ‘discovery’:
The many stories written…have revealed a crime model that police and care agencies refused to recognise.
This specific “crime model” has since evolved in the media headlines and discourse over the years, now commonly referred to as ‘Grooming Gangs’.
No Such Thing as White Grooming Gangs
The legacy spawned by this manufactured ‘Asian model’ of investigation and its subsequent response, is that the modern, colloquial term for ‘on-street’ grooming — ‘Grooming Gangs’ — is not only commonplace, but applies solely to Asian/Muslim offenders. Examination of media reporting by ourselves confirmed our suspicions that all usage of this racially-loaded label applies only to groups of primarily Asian/Muslim offenders.
Thanks to websites such as the ‘UK database for crimes against kids’, it is irrefutable that white “grooming gangs” exist in numbers by any standard and by any definition applied to their darker skinned and immigrant background co-offenders. However, any individual getting their information from the British media would be utterly oblivious to this.
In our research, we focused on eight major online media providers from across the political spectrum and from these, identified over 500 articles which made mention of the specific phrase “grooming gang”. The results were consistent, conclusive and a shameful indictment on the British press. Without exception and across the board the term “grooming gang” was exclusively and discriminately applied only to groups of Asian/Muslim offenders. Not a single example exists of a white group committing the very same crimes being described using that term:
As unequivocally demonstrated in the table above, in the eyes of the UK media, there are no such things as White ‘Grooming Gangs’. The Times appears to have been successful in their campaign beginning back in 2011 to create an entire media profile of CSE that is exclusively Asian/Muslim.
From our previous research, where we identified 126 white offenders convicted in what can comfortably be defined as ‘Grooming Gang’ related offences, we know that these seemingly invisible White offenders certainly do exist. So how are they reported on and labelled by the media? We’ve collected phrases and adjectives used to describe these white offenders in the corresponding news reports of ten prevalent cases. Below shows the case in question (linked), as well as the descriptions of the white ‘Grooming Gangs’ given in the media coverage:
Coventry, November 2017 3 white offenders: “Gang” — The Mirror , “Three Men” — BBC ,“Three Thugs” — Daily Mail, “Sex Gang Sickos” — The Sun, “Three Men” — The Independent.
Wrexham, July 2015: “Predatory Paedophile Ring” — The Guardian, “Predatory paedophile ring” — ITV, “paedophile ring” — BBC.
Bristol, April 2015: “Child sex-abuse gang” “Paedophile Ring” — The Guardian, “Paedophile Ring”- BBC, “Paedophile Gang” — The Mirror.
Cardiff, August 2017: “The three child abusers”- Independent, “Warped Paedos” — The Sun, “The trio”- Daily Mail.
Norwich, July 2015: “sex abuse ring” “paedophile ring” — Guardian, “paedophile ring” — Telegraph & ITV, “sex abuse ring” — BBC.
Birmingham, July 2016: “Nine Men”- BBC, The Guardian, “Nine perverts” -The Mirror.
Bristol, September 2016: “Paedophile Gang”- Daily Mail & Mirror, “Paedo Ring” — The Sun.
Surrey, April 2017: “Human traffickers” — Daily Mail, “sex trafficking gang” -The Sun, Daily Mirror.
Sydenham, September 2014: did not make National News.
Shrewsbury, February 2014: did not make National News .
As reinforced by the examples listed above, white ‘Grooming Gangs’ simply do not exist. Interestingly, not only are these groups not ‘grooming gangs’, according to the news reports, they aren’t even ‘groomers’ at all. Some articles do (rarely) mention that the offenders partook in ‘grooming’, yet the term is never used to describe them directly. Grooming, and its predatory-themed extension to ‘Grooming Gangs’ appears to be an exclusively Asian/Muslim trait. Also worth noting, in all of the articles we found reporting on white offender groups, none of the background/heritage/ethnicity was ever mentioned. Now compare the above examples with the media language used to describe ten of the most prevalent Asian/Muslim offending group cases:
Newcastle, August 2017: “Grooming Gang” — The Guardian, The BBC, The Sun, Independent. All media outlets in their reporting on this case made mention of the ethnicity/background of the perpetrators and/or the Victims.
Newcastle, November 2017: “Grooming Gang” — The Guardian, Daily Mail, “Kurdish illegal immigrants who groomed” — Daily Mail, “Kurdish Paedophile Gang” — Daily Mirror, “Kurdish Gang” “Asian Grooming Gang” — The Times.
Rotherham, October 2016: “Grooming ring” — The Guardian (refers to the ‘white’ victim), “Grooming Trial” — BBC, Refers to the Asian ethnicity of the men — Daily Express, “Asian child sex gang…white victim”- The Sun.
Rotherham, February, 2016: “Grooming gang” — The Independent, The Telegraph (makes reference to Asian ethnicity), BBC, & Daily Mail. Also, Reuters makes reference to victim/offender ethnicity.
Rotherham, January, 2017: “Five Asian men” — The Times, “grooming gang” -Daily Mirror. The Sun, the Times, & Daily Mail all made mention that the defendants yelled “allahu akhbar” in the court.
Bristol, November, 2014: “Somali prostitution Gang” + 13 other mentions of the men being Somali — Daily Mail, “Gang of Somali Refugees” — The Telegraph, “Sex Gangs Jailed for Grooming girls” — BBC Headline, “Somali Grooming Gang” — The Times “Somali Sex gang groomed…” — Daily Mirror Headline.
Telford, 2011 — May, 2013: “Asian gang groomed kids” — The Sun headline, “sex grooming case” — The Times headline, “grooming gang” — The Guardian.
Oxford, May, 2013: “Oxford Grooming Gang” — The Guardian (reference is also made to ‘Asian’ ethnicity, The Independent, The Telegraph. The Mirror makes note of the males Asian Ethnicity. The Times uses the phrases “sex groomer & sex grooming trial”.
Rochdale, May, 2012: “Sex Grooming Gang”- Daily Mail, “Sex Grooming Scandal”- Telegraph, “Grooming Gang” “grooming trial” — BBC.
Chelmsford, January, 2017: “groomed 13-year-old girl” — Daily Mirror Headline, “Iranian ‘sex gang” — (Iran mentioned 5 times) Daily Mail, “Convicted of Grooming” — Evening Standard.
In these articles, almost uniformly, the word ‘Grooming’ or the phrase ‘Grooming Gang’ takes centre stage. On the occasions that it does not, a report will instead almost always mention the nationality/ethnicity/religion of the offenders. When it comes to describing CSE offenders, shockingly, it appears that ‘grooming’ or ‘grooming gangs’ is exclusively reserved for Asians/Muslims, whereas white offenders are routinely described as ‘paedophiles’.
Different words of course, have very subtle differences. A standard Wikipedia definition of paedophilia reads:
“a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older adolescent experiences a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to prepubescent children”
Framing white culprits as paedophiles rather than the predatory sounding ‘grooming gang’, infers that potential mental illnesses within white offenders bear some responsibility for their behavior, partly absolving them of agency. This in turn can imply that Asian offenders are a unique type of threat, the logical conclusion of which is that they require an equally unique response. The way groups of white men are far more often represented as flawed, deficent and mentally sick, i.e. non-representative of their culture, whilst Asian men committing the same crimes are a product of theirs, is nothing but highly divisive, institutionalised racism.
Comedian and Journalist, Ava Vidal, has astutely highlighted this same phenomenon at play in the current Haiti-Oxfam worker scandal:
A Busy News Day
As mentioned, The Times chose to release their investigation on Wednesday the 5th of January, 2011, coinciding roughly with the completion of the latest in a sequence of high profile court cases involving multiple offenders convicted of CSE offences against British children. Whilst this was an astute way to help buttress their dogged campaign to formalise ‘on-street grooming’, there may also have been something more sinister at play in this choice of date. For on January 5th, 2011, Rupert Murdoch was in dire need of a distraction.
This day, shockwaves were set to reverberate through Fleet Street with or without The Times’ bombshell. The Guardian were set to splash on further phone hacking scandals, which now embroiled Prime Minister David Cameron. Ian Edmondson, News Of The World (NOTW) editor was being suspended for his role in the affair. This implicated the former News International editor Andy Coulson who had just been appointed as Cameron’s Director of Communications.This Guardian exclusive would change the face of News International permanently:
“The suspension of Ian Edmondson by the News of the World raises obvious questions for the paper’s ultimate owner, Rupert Murdoch, for the prime minister and, perhaps most of all, for the Met police. Edmondson was hired, initially as associate news editor, by its then editor Andy Coulson — a man who now sits at David Cameron’s side.”
The tenacity and ruthless scrutiny towards these revelations by the Guardian was matched only by that of The Times in their own relentless ‘on-street grooming’ campaign. The Guardian’s rigorous investigations were to be the catalyst that set off a series of chain reactions; each more spectacular than the last. The phone-hacking investigation was reopened; followed by Coulson’s swift resignation from Government. An increasingly aware public were demanding answers and this pressure led to the establishment of the Leveson Enquiry. News International employees, including Coulson, were being arrested and charged.
As more truths were laid bare, the collusion between Cameron’s office and News International’s was becoming more apparent by the day. The vultures were circling the once seemingly untouchable Cameron and Murdoch. They would have to ultimately settle for feeding on the carcass of the NOTW — the billionaire media mogul cut his losses and closed the paper in July that year. Reflecting on the chain of events that brought about the end of the tabloid, The Guardian reported in 2012:
The Camerons have known for months that the intimacy of their pre-2011 relationship with News Corporation was a time bomb that could explode under Downing Street at any time. That explains the neurotic response when the Guardian first began inquiring about that Christmas dinner as well as the farcical outrage over the Telegraph’s close interest in whether Cameron had ever ridden a retired police horse. The symbolic power of the old horse was all too clear: the physical embodiment of the corrupt relationship between Murdoch, police and the Tories.
The January 5th Guardian exclusive brought about the fall of the NOTW, jail for Murdoch employees and potentially almost implicated Cameron himself. The Times undoubtedly had a vested interest in trying to shield its News International sibling. The editor at The Times was then James Harding, a close ally of George Osborne who was also heavily implicated in the scandal for his hiring of Coulson. In a Guardian interview with the journalist who launched the Grooming Gang investigation, Andrew Norfolk, it was revealed that around the same time corruption engulfed News International, Harding was “unprecedented” in his support for further ‘Grooming’ material:
“After that initial splash, Norfolk thought it was a “job well done” and he would move on. But his then editor James Harding, now director of BBC News, insisted that he work on the story full-time and continued to encourage him, as does the present Times editor John Witherow. The support was “unprecedented”, he says…”
Was the ‘on-street’ grooming investigation exclusive on the very same day as the News Of The World revelations pure coincidence? Was the public hysteria whipped up by The Times over the following weeks just a case of useful timing? Or was this a purposeful and deliberate tactic designed to act as a type of damage control — a distraction technique to deflect attention away from News International and their close allies in the PM’s office? At first glance it appears unlikely, but it is most definitely worth noting — a rather curious case of timing. Regardless of whether this busy news day was born out of a cynically timed sleight-of-hand, designed to pit the emotionally charged many against the few or not, the societal fissure remains and the long-term repercussions the same.
‘Grooming Gang’: Fake Label, Real Consequences
When The Times launched its January 2011 investigation it further cemented the ‘on-street’ grooming racial stereotype into public discourse and, like its media counterparts, facilitated its evolution into ‘Grooming Gangs’ as a strictly Asian offence. Only by looking at the origins and evolution of the term can we understand what it really refers to and thus how potentially harmful it is. Stereotyping the committers of heinous crimes as uniquely (or especially particular) to a specific immigrant group creates many innocent victims suffering many consequences. Critically, the greatest victims of this over-simplified narrative are the groomed CSE victims who fall outside the narrow parameters required by The Times to misrepresent these crimes as alien to white British culture. These include the many male victims of CSE, individuals operating outside groups, ethnic minority victims and the victims of non Asian/Muslim groups.
Co-authors of their government-funded 2017 report titled “Working Effectively to Address Child Sexual Exploitation”, researchers Jessica Eaton and Dez Holmes write:
“The recent media attention around CSE has implications both for contemporary understanding of CSE and responses to it. When amplified by media representation, public outrage, however understandable, has the potential to do harm….Another impact of widespread media coverage of CSE is the development of stereotypes — the more times a story is reported or told in a specific way, the more likely it is that the general public and professionals will absorb a stereotype of offenders, victims and abuse typologies (Flowe et al, 2009; Shaw et al, 2009). An example is the significant public misconception that CSE offenders are Pakistani males, which overlooks the complex picture of child sexual abuse…Careful attention must be paid to the way any kind of media reporting, awareness raising, resources and films are developed so these stereotypes do not continue to lead to blind spots and gaps in responses.”
Having successfully created their racialised crime profile, The Times became pied-piper. Rather than critiquing The Times’ definitions and statistics, the tabloid press and the UK media at-large adopted their concocted terminology and as a result ‘grooming gang’ has infiltrated the public lexicon. This naivete is inexcusable, as The Times has habitually shown itself to be antagonistic towards immigrants and British Muslims.
Race-baiting within public discourse, such as the “grooming gang” narrative has undoubtedly fueled the nativist fires in the bellies of those most prone to provocation. A recently published Birmingham City University study, which focused on dissecting online Islamophobia and social media hate speech, looked at the types of abuse and hatred directed at Muslims via the medium of Twitter. Its author, Imran Awan, reportedly notes:
“much of the hate speech seemed to be related to news of grooming rings in the UK that appeared to be run by men of Asian origin.”
Predictably, hate speech leads to hate crimes. Reporting from the trial of Finsbury Park Killer Darren Osborne, the Daily Mirror observed:
“Osborne had become “obsessed” with Muslims in the weeks leading up to the incident after watching the BBC drama Three Girls, which was based on the true stories of victims of the Rochdale grooming gangs, the court heard.”
Rupert Murdoch has a long history of working with Governments to produce their propaganda as well as using his power to pressure Governments to do his bidding. The Times, proudly conservative, has motive not only to appease their loyal readership but to also spread their own self-serving ideology, of which, xenophobia is a central component. On a personal level, Murdoch himself houses motive to further demonise Muslims, having been previously described by those closest to him as fostering an “open dislike” of them. Warping the realities of British child sex abuse serves nobody but special interests with agendas. In successfully making a monster of Asian CSE offenders by placing them on their own unique pedestal of evil, The Times has all but ensured the accelerated persecution of Britain’s most persecuted minority.