JACK Straw’s controversial comments on grooming have been overwhelmingly backed by the Lancashire Telegraph’s online readers.

The Blackburn MP sparked a nationwide discussion when he said there was a problem of gangs of predominantly, but not exclusively, Pakistani men grooming young white girls on our streets.

In our online survey, a total of 4,874 people said they agreed with Mr Straw, compared to 749 against – an approval rating of 87 per cent.

The issue has stirred a fierce debate, with hundreds of comments posted on the Lancashire Telegraph website on both sides of the argument.

The former Home Secretary acknowledged that the offenders were a tiny minority of all Pakistani men and that when it came to sex crimes white men were responsible for the vast majority of offences.

But he said he wanted to open up a debate and added that some UK Pakistani men saw white girls as “easy meat” for sex abuse and that there were “specific problem” in some areas.

This newspaper launched its Keep Them Safe campaign in 2006 to highlight the issue.

Agencies including police later set up Operation Engage to tackle grooming in East Lancashire by protecting vulnerable girls and arresting sex criminals.

Mr Straw, who has been criticised by some members of his local Labour Party for his comments, said the number of responses to the poll, demonstrated that grooming was a subject that needed to be aired.

He said: “What this shows is that this is an issue people want to see debated.

“We have got to handle it in a sensitive way, and I am more conscious than anyone that these activities are confined to a tiny minority and is in no sense typical of the Pakistani community.”

The MP did suggest he regretted the tone of some of his comments though, and had noted the phrase ‘easy meat’ repeated by his critics.

He said: “In retrospect it would have been slightly better to use slightly less emotive language.”