Sarah Champion distances herself from Sun article on British Pakistani men

Labour MP says her opening paragraphs were edited and ‘stripped of nuance’ but the tabloid says her team approved it

The Labour shadow minister Sarah Champion has distanced herself from a column in the Sun in which she wrote: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls.”

The shadow women and equalities minister, who is MP for Rotherham, said her piece had been altered and should “not have gone out in my name”. The newspaper said the MP’s team had fully approved the article.

The piece appeared last Friday under the headline: “British Pakistani men ARE raping and exploiting white girls … and it’s time we faced up to it.”

In her opening paragraphs, Champion wrote: “Britain has a problem with British Pakistani men raping and exploiting white girls. There. I said it. Does that make me a racist? Or am I just prepared to call out this horrifying problem for what it is?”

Champion’s complaint against the newspaper comes a day after 100 MPs wrote to it to condemn a controversial article by one of its journalists that had quoted her on Muslim grooming gangs.

She was endorsed in the tabloid by the newspaper’s senior writer Trevor Kavanagh who said MPs had to tackle what he deemed “the Muslim Problem” and that Champion was one of the few politicians prepared to speak out.

The column by Sarah Champion in the Sun.
The column by Sarah Champion in the Sun. Photograph: The Sun

The Kavanagh column has drawn widespread condemnation, including from the Muslim Council of Britain and the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

More than 100 cross-party politicians signed an open letter to the newspaper condemning the column for using “Nazi-like language” regarding the Muslim community in Britain, coordinated by the Labour MP Naz Shah.

As the row intensified, Champion distanced herself from the article published under her name. She said the opening paragraphs had been edited by the tabloid and “stripped of nuance”.

But a spokesperson for the Sun said: “Sarah Champion’s column, as it appeared on Friday, was approved by her team and her adviser twice contacted us thereafter to say she was ‘thrilled’ with the piece and it ‘looked great’.

“Indeed, her only objection after the article appeared was her belief that her picture byline looked unflattering. Her office submitted five new pictures for further use.”

The MP said her original aim had been to try to “open the debate about a very specific form of child abuse”.

“However, the Sun decided to make the headline and opening sentences highly inflammatory and they could be taken to vilify an entire community on the basis of race, religion or country of origin,” she said.

Champion said she did not write the headline or opening sentences, which she said were “stripped of any nuance about the complex issue of grooming gangs, which have exploited thousands in my constituency”.

“The article should not have gone out in my name and I apologise that it did,” she said.

Of the Kavanagh piece, Champion said she was horrified that a “repulsive and extreme Islamophobic” column had quoted her positively. “I am ashamed that he made positive reference to my own piece. We must always stand up against racism and prejudice, whatever form it takes,” she said.

Labour members on Twitter had called on the party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to sack Champion from the front bench. The West Lancashire Labour councillor Paul Cotterill called the piece “a sinister piece of propaganda”.

Corbyn said he backed Shah’s public letter condemning Kavanagh’s column and said the sexual abuse cases involving Rolf Harris and Jimmy Savile, as well as the Rotherham grooming scandal, showed how serious the problem of sexual abuse was and the different ways it could arise.

In apparent criticism of Champion, who also signed the open letter, the Labour leader said: “Attempts to brand communities or ethnic or religious groups, wittingly or unwittingly, will only make that more difficult.

“In recent days, the Sun has published statements that incite Islamophobia and stigmatise entire communities. That is wrong, dangerous and must be condemned, as Naz Shah’s public letter does in the clearest possible terms. The interests of victims of sexual abuse and the rigorous investigation into the underlying causes of that abuse are damaged by this kind of bigotry and prejudice.”


Jessica Elgot and Graham Ruddick

The GuardianTramp

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