Police left children at mercy of grooming gangs in Rochdale, review finds

Posted: 15th January 2024

Girls were “left at the mercy” of paedophile grooming gangs for years because of failings by senior police and council bosses, a report has said.

The review covers 2004 to 2013 and sets out a series of failed investigations by Greater Manchester Police (GMP).

It also highlights the apparent local authority indifference to the plight of hundreds of youngsters identified as potential victims of Asian men.

GMP has apologised and said such cases were handled very differently now.

The report also identifies 96 men still deemed a potential risk to children, adding that this was “only a proportion” of the numbers involved in the abuse.

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has since called for disciplinary action to be taken against police officers and council officials who “failed in their duties” as well as some prosecutors in the North West.

He also praised whistleblowers, including health worker Sara Rowbotham and former GMP detective Maggie Oliver, who raised concerns despite facing vocal criticism from authorities.

In 2007, Ms Rowbotham and her team had alerted GMP and Rochdale Council about a gang of men of Pakistani and Afghan heritage engaged in child sexual exploitation (CSE) while Ms Oliver resigned from GMP in 2012 to publicly reveal the extent of the police failings.

Mr Burnham commissioned a series of independent reviews following the 2017 BBC documentary The Betrayed Girls, which highlighted repeated failures to protect children in the region.

One child victim, known as Amber, gave “significant evidence”, but the crimes were not recorded by GMP and perpetrators were potentially left to continue their abuse of other children, the report found.

Amber was even described as a co-conspirator in the sexual exploitation of other children in one trial without her knowledge – an allegation which she always denied and was unable to defend herself against.

The review, which focuses on 111 cases in Rochdale from 2004 to 2013, also concluded:

  • Compelling evidence of widespread organised sexual exploitation of children
  • Statutory agencies failed to respond appropriately
  • The threat of CSE was not addressed between 2004 and 2007
  • The probability that at least 74 children were being sexually exploited – and in 48 of those cases there were serious failures to protect the child
  • CSE was a low priority and under-resourced by GMP

It also found concerns raised by Ms Rowbotham and Ms Oliver were “substantiated”.

‘Lone voices’

The review’s author Malcolm Newsam said: “During the period covered by this review, GMP and Rochdale Council failed to prioritise the protection of children who were being sexually exploited by a significant number of men within the Rochdale area.

“For several years, Sara Rowbotham and her colleagues were lone voices in raising concerns about the sexual exploitation and abuse of these children.”

He said successive police operations during the period were “insufficiently resourced”.

Consequently he said children were “left at risk and many of their abusers to this day have not been apprehended”.

Mr Burnham described the results of the review as “distressing”.

Addressing the victims directly, he said: “We are sorry that you were so badly failed by the system that should have protected you.”

He added: “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.”

Leaders at Rochdale Council and GMP repeated previous apologies, with council leader Neil Emmott saying: “I want to reassure the public that those responsible are gone and long gone.

“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.”

Chief Constable Stephen Watson said the handling of CSE across Greater Manchester had been “overhauled since the early-2000s to ensure that victims and survivors are cared for and receive the expected level of service”.

Children ‘criminalised’

The report’s authors highlighted that a “significant number of successful convictions” had been made in recent years.

However, these related to only 13 of the 74 children believed to have been sexually exploited, which they described as a “very small proportion”.

Ms Rowbotham said: “Children were being raped every day. Both the police and Rochdale children services told me and kept telling me, it was nothing to do with them.”

“Everything being done now, should have been done then. All it would have taken is the right people actually giving a damn.”

Ms Oliver said she was filled with “so many mixed emotions” after 10 years of “fighting for the truth”.

“My overriding emotion though is one of anger,” she said.

“I am angry that not one senior officer or official has ever been held individually responsible for these failures, lies and cover ups.”

She said she was “extremely thankful that the Rochdale survivors have, once again, had it formally acknowledged that their treatment was wrong on so many levels, although for many this is too little too late”.

Source: Police left children at mercy of grooming gangs in Rochdale, review finds – BBC News

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