An independent review commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, to consider allegations made in the 2017 BBC documentary The Betrayed Girls about child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, has published its findings. The review team’s report covers the widespread organised sexual exploitation of children within Rochdale from 2004 to 2012.
In response to the report, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “This report is hard to read. It gives a detailed and distressing account of how many young people were so seriously failed. That said, it fulfils the purpose of why I set up this review in the first place. It is only by facing up fully and unflinchingly to what happened that we can be sure of bringing the whole system culture change needed when it comes to protecting children from abuse.
“I would like to thank those who have had the courage to come forward and share what happened to them. We know how difficult it must have been and still is. We are sorry that you were so badly failed by the system that should have protected you. I would also like to praise those who blew the whistle on their behalf, particularly Sara Rowbotham and Maggie Oliver, and for the support they have provided to them ever since. That took huge courage and determination and we thank them for it. The Deputy Mayor and I will personally ensure that support continues to be in place for all the victims of this appalling abuse and the organisations who support them.
“I decided to set up this review shortly after taking office in 2017 on the back of the serious allegation that lessons from failings in Manchester in the early 2000s, which led to the tragic death of Victoria Agoglia, were not learned and were subsequently repeated in Rochdale several years later. The report from the review team finds that this claim is accurate. That represents a serious failing by those in the Greater Manchester system at that time.
“I have asked Greater Manchester Police and Rochdale Council to ensure that every possible action is taken to follow up any leads arising from this report and to pursue any potential perpetrators.
"More broadly, we will now proceed to the fourth and final stage of this process which will seek to answer the original question which I set at the start: whether the Greater Manchester public can have confidence in the arrangements in place now for protecting children from sexual abuse.
"The events described in this report took place over 10 years ago and things have changed considerably in that time. Recent Ofsted inspections have found the way children at risk of sexual exploitation are protected by Rochdale's children’s services has improved, and GMP have a specialist child sexual exploitation unit. But there can be no complacency on this of all issues, and that is why we continue to challenge ourselves and will not rest until we have independent assurance that today's arrangements are robust."
Since early 2012, Greater Manchester Police and Rochdale Council have overhauled the way they prevent and respond to child sexual exploitation to ensure that victims and survivors are cared for and receive the expected level of service.
Whilst criminal justice outcomes are one aim of investigations and operations, through the Complex Safeguarding Hub also known as The Sunrise Team which co-locates police with local authority and health service colleagues, the partnership has refined the focus on the safeguarding of vulnerable young people and the prevention and reduction of exploitation. The team also run proactive operations to educate communities, identify potential victims and offenders, and close gateways to child sexual exploitation.
For example, under Operation Cobalt, the team visits hotels and taxi companies to educate staff on the signs of child sexual exploitation and how to report concerns to GMP or Rochdale Council.
Under Operation Vigilant, the team responds to intelligence gathered from key sources within communities to identify potential victims and offenders to enable early intervention. In 2023, the team conducted seven days of action resulting in the seizure of 4,733 illegal vapes – which intelligence suggests are sometimes being used to groom vulnerable young people.
Just last year, an Ofsted report regarding Rochdale Council - including the Complex Safeguarding Hub - was published and confirmed that ‘children at risk receive an effective response from the dedicated Sunrise team’.
When crimes are identified or reported, the partnership designs and implements bespoke care plans to ensure victims and survivors are offered specialist support from the outset. Engagement is led by trained staff, who have experience of building rapport with people abused in childhood. At the right time, suspect-focussed and evidence-based investigations – like operations Doublet, Routh, and Lytton – then progress, with the support of the force’s Child Sexual Exploitation Major Investigation Team, to ensure they are reflective of the best practice recognised by The Hydrant Programme and National Association of People Abused in Childhood.
Significant progress has also been made through Operation Lytton, which is investigating non-recent multi-victim multi-offender child sexual exploitation in Rochdale between 2000 and 2008. So far, 37 suspects have been charged with 303 offences. In 2023, five were convicted of 22 offences and sentenced to a combined total of 71.5 years imprisonment. An additional 29 suspects are scheduled to go on trial in 2025.
Rochdale Council leader Councillor Neil Emmott said: “We are deeply sorry that the people who were at Rochdale Council during the period 2004 to 2013 did not recognise nor acknowledge the very serious failures that affected the lives of children in our borough and failed to take the necessary action. I want to reassure the public that those responsible are gone and long gone. No amount of contrition or apology can ever repair the awful damage that was done to the lives of these survivors.
“As the current leader of Rochdale Council I want to repeat the apology we have made previously but also to reassure the public that far more rigorous practices are in place today to protect our children. Rochdale was already investigating these historical cases when the Mayor’s review began in 2017 and a number are still ongoing and we want to ensure the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice. We will be ever vigilant in our efforts to ensure these awful failures don’t happen again and that children will be protected.
“Every Ofsted inspection since 2014 has concluded that Rochdale responds to reports of child sexual exploitation effectively through our dedicated multi-agency Sunrise Team. We have offered and continue to offer support to those survivors of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale.
“I want to thank the Mayor Andy Burnham for commissioning this report and Malcolm Newsam and his team for investigating and compiling the report. The contributions of whistleblowers like Sara Rowbotham and Maggie Oliver also deserve full recognition.”
Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Stephen Watson said: “It remains to be a matter of profound regret that victims of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale in the early 2000s were failed by Greater Manchester Police – to them, I apologise. Today, I also recognise the plight of Maggie Oliver and Sara Rowbotham - who advocated for victims and survivors when no one else did, and ultimately enabled the review and publication of this report.
“Whilst the report rightfully vindicates Maggie and Sara and reinforces the importance of the changes we have already made – many with Maggie’s support, it remains to be said that the current prevention of and response to child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and across Greater Manchester has been overhauled since the early 2000s to ensure that victims and survivors are cared for and receive the expected level of service.
“With Rochdale’s Complex Safeguarding Hub and the force’s Child Sexual Exploitation Major Investigation Team now boasting 120 police officers and staff, following a multi-million-pound investment, we have data to assure ourselves and communities that we have and are making progress. Since nine men were convicted following Operation Span in 2012, there have been a further 135 arrests, 432 charges, and 32 convictions.
“This data should also warn perpetrators of child sexual exploitation that, regardless of the passage of time, GMP will pursue you until you face justice.
“The partnership will, of course, now spend time digesting the contents of the report to ensure the partnership has not missed any opportunities to improve.”
Deputy Mayor for Police, Crime, Fire and Criminal Justice, Kate Green, said: “These reviews have been crucial for giving us a full and objective picture of non-recent child sexual exploitation in various parts of Greater Manchester. I am grateful to Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway for conducting such a thorough review into Rochdale, listening to and respecting survivors, and putting them at the heart of this process.
“While this would have been difficult reading for GMP and Rochdale Council, I know they have taken it very seriously. I also know that attitudes and safeguarding practice have moved on.
“If anyone has been a victim of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale or anywhere in Greater Manchester, I want them to know that they will be listened to, they will be taken seriously, and action will be taken, and I would encourage them to come forward and report it and seek advice and help.”
If you suspect someone of committing CSE or believe someone you know may be a victim, you can report it to GMP via LiveChat at gmp.police.uk or by calling 101. In an emergency, dial 999.
Greater Manchester Victims’ Services provides support for all victims of reported and unreported crime in Greater Manchester. The service is available weekdays from 8am to 8pm and Saturdays from 9am to 5pm via phone: 0800 876 6155 or email: GMVictims@catch22.org.uk
Saint Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre, Manchester provides a comprehensive and co-ordinated response to men, women and children who live or have been sexually assaulted within Greater Manchester. They offer forensic medical examinations, practical and emotional support as well as a counselling service for all ages. Services are available on a 24-hour basis and can be accessed by calling 0161 276 6515.
Greater Manchester Rape Crisis is a confidential information, support and counselling service run by women for women over 18 who have been raped or sexually abused at any time in their lives. Call on 0161 273 4500 or email email@example.com
We Are Survivors provides specialist trauma informed support to male victims in Greater Manchester who have experienced sexual abuse, rape or sexual exploitation. Call 0161 236 2182.
If you are struggling to cope or having suicidal thoughts, call the Samaritans 24/7 on 116 123.
The Maggie Oliver Foundation provides emotional support and legal advocacy to survivors and those at risk of child sexual exploitation - The Maggie Oliver Foundation - Helping Survivors of Abuse
Article Published: 15/01/2024 08:21 AM