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Police worker 'banned for telling truth'


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A police worker praised by MPs for protecting thousands of girls from forced marriages is facing dismissal for speaking publicly about their plight.


Philip Balmforth has been removed from his duties and faces a disciplinary hearing next week after giving an interview to The Times about Asian children who go missing from schools in Bradford.


The former police inspector, regarded as a national authority on “honour-based” violence, stands accused of “damaging the reputation” of West Yorkshire Police by speaking to a newspaper without consent.


It is understood that the force, which has investigated 176 cases of forced marriage in the past year alone, took action against Mr Balmforth after receiving a complaint from Bradford council. Senior figures on the local authority are said to have claimed that his high-profile work was damaging the city’s image and was “bad for regeneration”.


Last week 56 MPs signed a Commons early day motion praising Mr Balmforth. It was tabled by Ann Cryer, the MP for Keighley and a campaigner for the welfare of ethnic minority women.


The motion applauds his work “in protecting thousands of vulnerable girls in the Bradford district” and commends the police “for having the foresight to engage Philip 12 years ago, thus enabling him to give so many young women the right to choose whom and when to marry”.


Mrs Cryer described Mr Balmforth as “a knight in shining armour” who “does everything he can to protect people and give them time to assess the situation they are in”.


It is estimated that hundreds of young people — most of them female — are bullied, coerced or tricked into marrying against their will each year.


Ninety per cent of the victims who have been dealt with by the Government’s Forced Marriage Unit are from a Pakistani or Bangladeshi background and the majority are taken to their families’ countries of origin to be married, often to a first cousin.


Mr Balmforth, a full-time police support worker whose post as vulnerable persons officer (Asian women) is partly funded by Bradford social services, has been contacted for help by more than 2,000 local women in recent years.


He was interviewed by The Times this month after the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee inquiry into domestic violence established that 33 pupils had vanished from schools in Bradford.


Mr Balmforth suggested that every education authority in the country should be asked: “How many children did you lose last year? And where are they?”


Inquiries ordered by the Government revealed later that 2,089 pupils aged under 16 had gone missing during the past year in 15 local authority areas regarded as being of high risk for forced marriage.


There are concerns that a significant minority of the missing pupils may have been taken to Asia for a marriage ceremony against their will.


Jasvinder Sanghera, whose Karma Nirvana charity helps victims of forced marriage and honour-based violence, said that she was disgusted by Mr Balmforth’s treatment. “Philip Balmforth is the most experienced and effective police officer in the country in dealing with these issues. He’s devoted to his work and over the years his achievements have been extraordinary,” she said. “He’s fallen victim to people who are more concerned about issues of cultural sensitivity and political correctness than they are about helping vulnerable young women.”


Shahien Taj, director of the Henna Foundation, which provides support for Muslim children and their families, said that Mr Balmforth had done “an impeccable job in raising the issue of missing children”.


“If we don’t raise awareness about this issue, then there are young people out there who will not realise that there is help available for them.


They’ll carry on think that what’s happening to them is normal,” she said. “Philip Balmforth is a one-off. He does everything in his power to make young people safe. We need more people like him in police forces.”


Bradford council declined to comment on the action taken against Mr Balmforth, while a spokesman for West Yorkshire Police said that it was policy not to discuss internal disciplinary matters.


He said that the force took forced marraige issues “very seriously” and had “a lot of experience in this area, built up over many years”. He added: “We always encourage people to report forced marriage issues and are keen to reassure them that they will be taken seriously and their complaint will be dealt with sensitively.”


“People should never be afraid to come forward and talk to us. We have a number of people trained in this area of work.”


Missing pupils


— More than 2,000 children are missing from school rolls across 14 local education authorities serving communities identified as vulnerable to forced marriage


— The Government has demanded reports from each council to establish how many of the 2,089 children “not in receipt of suitable education” have been taken abroad to marry against their will


— The missing pupils: Leeds 520; Manchester 385; Leicester 294; Birmingham 250; Bristol 155; Lancashire 149; Derby 121; Luton 66; Newham 40; Bradford 33; Waltham Forest 31; Middlesbrough 23; Tower Hamlets 16; Blackburn with Darwen 6



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