Ex-prosecutor Nazir Afzal who brought down the Rochdale grooming gangs will head the Catholic Church's drive to stamp out child abuse scandals

The Muslim former prosecutor who led the crackdown on Rochdale's grooming gangs is to head the Catholic Church's drive to stamp out child abuse scandals, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

The appointment of Nazir Afzal as the first chairman of the new Catholic Safeguarding Standards Agency will be announced on Tuesday.

Mr Afzal won plaudits a decade ago for overturning a Crown Prosecution Service decision and pursuing a gang of British Pakistani criminals involved in the rape and trafficking of 47 girls, resulting in 19 convictions.

Birmingham-born Mr Afzal later criticised the white professionals in the CPS for 'over-sensitivity', asserting that 'political correctness and fear of appearing racist may have contributed to justice being stalled'. His appointment comes amid wide-ranging reforms to safeguarding in the Catholic Church after a review by child protection specialist Ian Elliott.

This followed severe criticism of child safety lapses in the Church by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA).

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster and head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, described the appointment as a 'pivotal moment'.

Mr Afzal said: 'The Catholic Church has recognised the failures of the past and the need to put things right. This is what attracted me to the role.'

Stephen Ashley, a former assistant chief constable, will be deputy chairman of the new agency. He is the author of a Home Office report on police conduct during investigations into sex offences by Jimmy Savile.

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