LONDON (Reuters) - The elected official in charge of policing in the northern English town of Rotherham quit on Tuesday after weeks of resisting political pressure to stand down over a scandal involving the sexual exploitation of as many as 1,400 children.
Shaun Wright was in charge of children's services for the local authority during the time some of the abuse was occurring. An independent report last month revealed the crimes had been going on for 16 years.
Wright said he was resigning as Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire because it was detracting from the focus of supporting the victims of the abuse in Rotherham, the scale of which shocked the country, 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 and some as young as 11, 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 led to accusations that the police and the local council had for years ignored warnings and reported incidents because of the background of the victims, and suggestions officials had turned a blind eye for fear of being labeled racist.
Wright was head of children's services in Rotherham between 2005 and 2010 before being elected to his job as watchdog for the local police force.
He said he knew nothing about the abuse while he was in his former role.
Prime Minister David Cameron, Home Secretary (interior minister) Theresa May and the leader of the opposition Labour Party Ed Miliband all called for him to resign but he had resisted their demands.
"As I’ve previously stated, I entered into public service to make a positive difference in South Yorkshire," Wright said.
"Protecting vulnerable people and particularly victims of child sexual exploitation has been my number one priority as Commissioner and much progress has been made over the last two years."
Police commissioners were brought in by Cameron's government in 2010 to oversee the work of police forces and set their priorities, but the revelation that they could not be sacked in the wake of criticism leveled at Wright has led to calls for the law to be changed.
(Reporting by Michael Holden; editing by Stephen Addison)