Victims of child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester are having their cases newly investigated as a result of a review commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester.
Mayor Andy Burnham announced the review in 2017 following the airing of the BBC documentary, The Betrayed Girls, about child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.
He said he wished to assure himself and the public that ‘everything possible’ had been done to protect children.
The report, written by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway, looked at the Operation Augusta investigation, which was launched by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) following the death in 2003 of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia.
Operation Augusta was set up in 2004 and uncovered the systematic exploitation of looked after children mainly in the care system in the city of Manchester.
The review team undertook detailed analysis of a sample of 25 children known to Operation Augusta and concluded that there was a significant possibility that 16 children were being sexually exploited.
Published today, the team’s final report found that Operation Augusta had not tackled the sexual exploitation of a number of children in the care system.
Very few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice and their activities were not disrupted, although there were eight criminal justice outcomes in total.
‘The report makes extremely difficult reading. But it is only by fully facing up to past failures – however painful that is – that we will be able to correct them as best we can and better protect children today,’ said Mayor Burnham. ‘Victoria’s death should have been a wake-up call on child sexual exploitation to the whole of Greater Manchester. But it wasn’t. Her death exposed a network of paedophiles brazenly abusing young people – girls and boys – in care.
‘Each and every one of those abusers should have been brought to justice but, appallingly, most escaped and some were left to reoffend.’
Mayor Burnham said that the report revealed ‘the same problematic institutional mindset in public authorities that we have seen elsewhere: young, vulnerable girls not seen as the true victims by those whose job it was to protect them but instead as the problem.’
The review team’s report found that there was an over-reliance by investigators in Operation Augusta on the co-operation of the child victims despite the fact the the children were coerced by their perpetrators.
They also found that multi-agency strategy meetings focused on agencies encouraging the children to protect themselves rather than providing means of protection for them.
Officers conducting the initial phase of the investigation reported that there were potentially 97 persons of interest. The review team independently identified 68 individuals known to Operation Augusta who it could reasonably be assumed had been a part of this group.
However, instead of them being prosecuted and the victims protected, senior officers prematurely closed Operation Augusta down in 2005 before it could complete its work.
The review team’s judgement is that this was driven by a decision to remove resources from the investigation rather than a sound understanding that all lines of enquiry had been successfully completed or exhausted.
Deputy mayor for policing and crime and chair of the child sexual exploitation steering group, Bev Hughes, commented: ‘There can be no justifiable reason for the abandonment of Operation Augusta – a major investigation of systemic sexual abuse of children in the care of local authorities.
‘This report lays bare the most profound abuse to which these young people were subjected, when they and their families had every reason to expect they would be safeguarded.
‘When Operation Augusta was abruptly curtailed, children were left unprotected and perpetrators free to continue their appalling activities.’
‘The system was guilty of appalling failings and I say sorry to all the victims that they were let down in this way. But I can also say to them that I am determined to ensure others will not suffer in the way they have,’ Mayor Burnham said.
‘My goal in publishing this report is to banish for good from Greater Manchester the old mindset that failed them so badly. We will have a zero tolerance approach to child sexual exploitation of any kind and authorities will hunt it down and root it out wherever it is found.
‘The fact that a new criminal investigation has been opened by GMP shows that it was right to commission this review and I will ensure that they will have all the resources they need to give the victims the justice they have so long waited to see.
‘Finally, I wish to praise the work of the whistleblowers without whose courage and determination the truth would never have been told.’