A review has found that authorities ‘let down’ victims of child grooming rings

Date published: 14 January 2020


Police and social workers 'did not protect' children who were suffering abuse, a review commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, has found.

The review, published today (Tuesday 14 January 2020), looked at the way authorities have dealt with child sexual exploitation and the historic failures in the protection of children in Manchester.

The independent review, centred on Operation Augusta, found some victims told police and carers about assaults - but no action was taken.

Operation Augusta was set up by GMP in 2004 and identified almost 100 potential suspects and over 50 potential victims of child sexual exploitation in south Manchester.

The review states that Operation Augusta was closed down by senior officers in 2005 in order to free up resources rather than because ‘all lines of enquiry had been successfully completed or exhausted’. 

The death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia, originally from Rochdale, who was placed in the care of Manchester City Council at the age of eight, was also included in the review.

Victoria died of an overdose in 2003 after years of abuse and days after she was forcibly injected with heroin by a 50-year-old man.

The review concluded social services ‘failed to protect her’.

In a statement, Assistant Chief Constable Mabs Hussain, Head of Specialist Crime for Greater Manchester Police, said: “We accept that authorities fell short of doing all they could to protect and support the child victims of sexual exploitation identified under Operation Augusta in 2004.

“Children should be able to expect those responsible for their care will do all they can to keep them safe and I want to apologise to all those vulnerable children who were let down. I can only imagine the pain and distress they must have gone through, which would have only been made worse by these failings. I am sorry they were let down and I am sorry they were not protected from harm.

“Many of the children were subject to the most profound abuse and, although the review team acknowledged there was much in Operation Augusta and the work carried out by the investigation team to be commended, we agree the overall operation was not to the standard rightfully expected from victims. We have made a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct so that they can carry out an independent assessment to determine if there are any conduct matters that should be investigated.

“After taking learnings from the Operation Span investigation in Rochdale and the significant convictions secured in 2013, we have worked closely with partners across Greater Manchester to develop a consistent standard in addressing the exploitation of young people. This approach puts the victim at the centre of everything we do, which ensures that proper support is provided by the right agencies and any safeguarding concerns are addressed.

“With this support from partners, it provides a stronger footing for police to prevent, disrupt and investigate these crimes. The work of these specialised teams under Project Phoenix has been recognised nationally as showing excellent working practice in tackling child sexual exploitation across Greater Manchester.

“Our work initially focused on child sexual exploitation. We have continued to learn and develop these principles with partners over the last six years. As a result, we have made further improvements to our whole approach to tackling the abuse and exploitation of young people.

“These improvements include the introduction of specialist co-located multi-agency ‘Complex Safeguarding Teams’ in every district across Greater Manchester. These focus on all aspects of exploitation including CSE, criminal exploitation and modern slavery. 

“A Major Incident Team has been established under Operation Green Jacket. This dedicated multi-agency team has already carried out a significant amount of disruption actions, as well as numerous safeguarding visits.

“We have been reviewing all the information available and now a full investigation has been launched. To date, this investigation has resulted in one man being arrested and another interviewed under caution in September 2019 in connection with the abuse of Victoria Agoglia. The men have been released under investigation and we have provided an update to Victoria’s grandmother on the progress of our enquiries.

“This remains an ongoing investigation and I would encourage anyone who was involved in the original operation as a victim, potential victim or witness to please come forward and contact us so that we and partner agencies can provide you with any support we can.

“We will continue to do all that we can to safeguard children within our communities. Greater Manchester Police will investigate any report of child exploitation that is made.”

If you have been affected by this case and wish to speak to police, or if you believe you have information that can assist the investigation team, they can be contacted via opgreenjacket@gmp.police.uk

 

Almudena Lara, head of policy for the NSPCC, said: “It is sadly very clear that these young victims of sexual abuse were let down by the authorities responsible for keeping them safe. 

“While we understand that Operation Augusta was a highly complex and wide-reaching investigation set up with the best of intentions, today’s report outlines shocking failures to protect some of the most vulnerable people in our society.

“It’s crucial that lessons are learned since Operation Augusta, ensuring similar future investigations are better co-ordinated and resourced, and Greater Manchester Police have rightly recognised this.

“The pain and devastation caused by sexual abuse cannot be underestimated, but the NSPCC would always encourage anyone who has experienced abuse to speak out and seek support.”

 

In a statement, Joanne Roney OBE, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, said: “This report makes for painful reading. We recognise that some of the social work practice and management oversight around 15 years ago fell far below the high standards we now expect. We are deeply sorry that not enough was done to protect our children at the time.

“While we cannot change the past, we have learned from it and will continue to do so to ensure that no stone is left unturned in tackling this abhorrent crime. 

“The review itself acknowledges that how we tackle the sexual exploitation of children has improved considerably. Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police work together much more closely and effectively to identify young people at risk of exploitation, put safeguarding measures in place to protect them and pursue perpetrators.

“Recent scrutiny from independent expert bodies including Ofsted and the Local Government Association has also endorsed the positive impact of this co-ordinated work. Our most recent Ofsted visit was only last month and we understand their feedback, due to be published next week, will highlight partnership working, leadership and our complex safeguarding hub as particular strengths. 

“Work to build up trusted relationships with potential victims is also having success - both in prevention and in the prosecution of offenders.

“We want to reassure Manchester people that, more than a decade and a half of learning later, we are in a much better place and the approach to tackling child sexual exploitation has strengthened significantly.

“We are also working closely with other Greater Manchester local authorities to share best practice.

“As chief executive of the Council, I was a key member of the steering group that oversaw this review team’s work. We have fully engaged with the review and not shirked from confronting past shortcomings to help inform continuing improvements. While bad people will always try to prey on the most vulnerable, keeping children safe is our absolute priority. We cannot and will not be complacent.

“Our prime concern throughout this process has been the interests of the young people directly affected, ensuring that their identities were protected, they were kept informed and that effective actions were taken wherever possible in the interests of justice.

“We would urge anyone affected by this report to come forward to us or the police. They will be believed. They will be supported.”

If you have been affected by this case and would like to seek support from specialist agencies but do not wish to speak to police, then Victim Support can be contacted on 0808 168 9024

Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111. Adults with concerns about the wellbeing of children, or who wish to report abuse, can phone the NSPCC Helpline on 0808 800 5000.

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