ASIAN grooming gangs who abuse white teenage girls should be given longer sentences where there is evidence of racism, a government law officer has said.

Solicitor General Robert Buckland told The Daily Telegraph that racism "cuts all ways" and should be "front and centre" when it is part of sexual abuse cases.

His comments follow the convictions of 17 men and one woman over the sexual abuse of under-age girls in Newcastle.

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Those prosecuted were from the Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Indian, Iraqi, Iranian and Turkish communities and mainly British-born.

Some Conservative MPs have questioned why the apparently racially-aggravated nature of their offences was not taken into account when they were sentenced.

Mr Buckland told the Telegraph: "The law does not discriminate. When it talks about sentencing increases for racial aggravation it doesn't cut one way, it cuts all ways.

"Where there is a racial element in sexual abuse cases the law is clear that courts can apply a sentencing uplift.

"Racial aggravation should be front and centre in cases where there is evidence or racial hostility or motivation."

The trials in Newcastle followed a number of similar cases - including in Rotherham and Oxford - and Mr Buckland expressed concern that fears of being accused of racism may have deterred the authorities from adopting a tougher approach.

"There has been an institutional reticence when it comes to Asian gangs that groom and abuse white girls," he said.

"Some people have been more concerned about being labelled racist than dealing with child safeguarding."