‘The ball bounces high in the shadows off the gable end and a handful of kids chase it down the road. Under the stairway to the flats nearby, half a dozen teenage girls lie sprawled on the concrete, sheltering from the slate-grey drizzle. They watch the ball ping back up the street, strung out in the fading evening light, as the acrid smell of cannabis hangs overhead. Further down the road, a group of lads in hoodies mill around the off-licence asking passers-by if they can buy a few cans of strong lager for them.
It’s a scene you’ll find in many parts of northern England and one I’m all too familiar with. Even now, when I see the boredom and despair in kids’ eyes out on the streets, the same feeling comes back to me. Growing up in a single-parent family near Burnley, drinking at 14 and hanging around off-licences asking grown-ups to buy me a drink, just as I see in Rochdale now, I knew about the vulnerability of kids roaming the streets with nothing to do. There were dangers then, but now it’s worse. For gangs of men looking to groom kids to be violently abused, they’re easy prey.’
Read more: Rotherham is not an isolated incident