Girls were left “at the mercy” of paedophile grooming gangs for years in Rochdale because of an “inadequate” response by police and council bosses, a new report has found.
The damning 173-page report into Operation Span – Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) much-criticised investigation into the grooming allegations in Rochdale – also identified 96 men still deemed a potential risk to children.
The report, the result of a six-year investigation commissioned by Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, covered 2004 to 2013 and reviewed the cases of 111 children on police files during the period of Operation Span.
It found that there was evidence 74 of the children were being sexually exploited and in 48 cases there were “serious failures” to protect them.
The report detailed multiple failed investigations by police and an apparent indifference among local authorities to the plight of hundreds of youngsters, mainly white girls from poor backgrounds, all identified as potential victims of abuse by Asian men.
Steven Watson, chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, who took up the role in May 2021, described the findings of the report as “shocking, stark and shameful”.
“One of the primary responsibilities of the police is to protect the vulnerable from the cruel and predatory, and in this regard, we failed you,” he added.
He said that the “lessons from our past had been well and truly learned” and were “solidly baked” into the systems used by police and partner agencies involved in child safeguarding today.
“I would never stand here and complacently assert that we are perfect, we are certainly not, and regrettably mistakes could well similarly be made into the future.
“But what I am saying is that our current practices and working arrangements have altered dramatically and are now reflective of the highest national standards,” he said, adding that frontline officers were also “better trained” in child safeguarding.
The report states there was “compelling evidence” of widespread, organised sexual abuse of children in Rochdale from as early as 2004 onwards.
Three years later, in 2007, a crisis team led by Sara Rowbotham – who would become a whistleblower in the scandal – alerted GMP and Rochdale Council to the involvement of an organised crime group.
GMP identified the ringleaders of the gang but did not investigate further because the children were too frightened to assist.
That, the report said, was a “serious failure” to protect the children, because it ignored the coercion and control the groomers had over their victims and families.
Children as young as 12 gang-raped above takeaway shops
Another police investigation into two takeaway shops in Rochdale, involving 30 adult male suspects, was also aborted prematurely because police bosses failed to resource it and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deemed the main child victim an unreliable witness.
In January 2010, following the launch of a specialist team in Rochdale, a child told a social worker of the wide-scale abuse of children by up to 60 men.
A detective inspector asked for more staff to investigate. However, according to the report, police bosses denied the request.
“Once more, children were left at the mercy of their abusers because of an inadequate response by GMP and children’s social care to the serious exploitation of vulnerable children,” the report said.
It wasn’t until December – more than two years after first being told of abuse centred on two takeaway restaurants – that GMP finally acted, launching Operation Span.
The operation led to the conviction in May 2012 of nine men in a high-profile court case, which heard girls as young as 12 were plied with alcohol and drugs and gang raped in rooms above takeaway shops.
It was hailed at the time as a “fantastic result of British justice” by Greater Manchester Police.
But the report released today found the police operation failed to address numerous other crimes and ignored children’s allegations, letting their abusers off the hook.News