Rochdale grooming gangs are STILL preying on girls: Whistleblower warns 96 men pose risk to children as damning report reveals police left victims ‘at the mercy’ of pimps and …
Published: 08:30, 15 January 2024 | Updated: 15:03, 15 January 2024
The review into how police and social workers did not respond to large-scale child sexual exploitation by gangs of mainly Asian men between 2004 and 2012 was published this morning and pointed the finger at failures within Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and Rochdale Council.
The report revealed that many abusers continue to walk free and it identified 96 men who are still deemed a potential risk to children. However, the true number of those involved in the abuse is believed to be much higher.
It also vindicated whistleblowers who had raised concerns about grooming gangs in the town, with former case worker Sara Rowbotham declaring ‘shame on you’ at retired police officers who refused to take part in the review.
Following its publication detective-turned-campaigner Maggie Oliver said despite dozens of people being jailed, grooming is ‘categorically’ still happening in Rochdale.
The report included details about how:
- The aborted foetus of a 13-year-old girl was taken by police without her consent to be tested for DNA, before being left forgotten in a freezer at a police station while the girl herself continued to be abused by men;
- Victims who gave evidence against their abusers were not protected from harassment and threats, with some having their homes targeted and guns pulled on them;
- Police took no action against a ‘pimp’ who impregnated a 15-year-old girl who later gave birth to his child;
- One child was even arrested and bailed to live with a man who had already been arrested on suspicion of child sex offences, before later being named as a co-conspirator in the trial of her abusers in a case the report called ‘deplorable’.
Rochdale child abusers Jahn Shahid Ghani (left) and Mohammed Ghani (right) were both jailed last year
Insar Hussain (left) and Ali Kazmi (right) were also both jailed last year for raping children in Rochdale
Grooming gang members Abdul Qayyum (left) and Abdul Aziz (right) were jailed in 2012 for abusing children
The report considered claims by Maggie Oliver, former Detective Constable involved with the first large-scale investigation into grooming in Rochdale, Operation Span, launched in 2010. Pictured: Ms Oliver at her home in Cheshire
It also revealed that in one shocking case GMP secretly took the aborted foetus of a 13-year-old rape victim and performed a DNA test on it without telling the girl or her parents.
The report found that the foetus was left in a freezer at a police station after the DNA was found not to be a match to possible suspects, and was only found during a ‘routine property review’ later. In the meantime, the girl was exploited by grooming gangs for years and was even at risk of being taken to Pakistan by them.
Conclusions of the Rochdale grooming gang review
- The emerging threat of child sexual exploitation was not addressed between 2004 and 2007.
- In 2007, GMP and Rochdale Council declined to investigate how a group of Asian men had been exploiting 11 children for sex and dealing class A drugs despite concern by the Crisis Intervention Team, in a ‘serious failure to protect these children’.
- Just one detective was appointed to begin a small-scale police investigation in 2007, which did not investigate how organised crime groups were involved.
No charges or convictions resulted.
- The first investigation in 2008 and 2009 – launched after a girl arrested for smashing up a takeaway revealed she had been raped and sexually assaulted – ‘was complex and needed to be resourced accordingly, but additional resources were not provided’. Although the investigation ‘identified widespread sexual exploitation of many vulnerable children by at least 30 adult perpetrators’, none were charged.
- A second girl who spoke to the 2008/2009 investigation team complained of sexual assault but ‘insufficient effort was put into identifying the man who raped her’. Had her complaints been ‘pursued with the rigour required it may have strengthened the evidence to proceed with the prosecution’, the review said.
- Operation Span, the second investigation into the 2008/9 accusations, which saw nine men convicted and jailed in May 2012, was described as ‘relatively limited’.
- Authorities committed a ‘deplorable’ failure to protect a girl known as ‘Amber’.
She was designated a victim of child sexual abuse but the crimes were not formally recorded by GMP and the perpetrators ‘were potentially left to continue their abuse of other children. Instead, Amber was later named as a ‘co-conspirator’ in a trial of men accused of abusing other children. The review said: ‘No consideration was given to how the decision would affect Amber personally or what the repercussions of the decision might be for her family.
This failure to protect a vulnerable victim as deplorable.’
- Lessons were not learned after the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia from drugs in 2003 after claiming she had been sexually abused, or the resulting Operation Augusta, a probe into child sexual exploitation in South Manchester which ended in 2005. Just two of almost 100 suspects were jailed despite an investigation into Victoria’s death revealing 57 victims of grooming gangs, some aged just 12.
The girl in question, named in the 173-page document as Child 44, was even threatened by a man with a gun before the trial of the men who abused her – although she was left furious when the man who got her pregnant was not charged with raping her.
The Guardian reports that the child even bumped into her rapist in the supermarket after he was released early following his conviction conspiracy and sexual trafficking after no one told her he had been freed.
The review found that she, as well as another victim, were harassed and targeted by men after giving evidence against their abusers with terrifying incidents that saw them chased through the streets and their homes trashed.
The damning dossier also claims that no action was taken against a ‘pimp’ who got a 15-year-old girl pregnant, while another child claimed she was kept locked in cages and made to act like a dog or baby, with again, no action being taken against the men allegedly involved.
The report is the third of four written by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway – and saw apologies this morning from Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Police and Rochdale Council.
The report has led to apologies from Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester who called it ‘detailed and distressing’, as well as from the police and council.
The authors previously led a review of Operation Augusta, an investigation into grooming gangs in South Manchester, which was published in 2020, and the review into child safeguarding practices in Oldham, published in 2022.
The report considered claims by Sara Rowbotham, co-ordinator of a young people’s Crisis Intervention Team, and Maggie Oliver, former Detective Constable involved with the first large-scale investigation into grooming in Rochdale, Operation Span, launched in 2010.
It found that the pair of ‘lone voices’ had flagged clear evidence of ‘prolific serial rape of countless children in Rochdale’ but that this was not acted upon, with the children’s unwillingness to make a formal complaint repeatedly used as an excuse for not investigating.
Mr Newsam, lead author, said: ‘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.
‘This review was initiated following the serious allegations made by both Maggie Oliver and Sara Rowbotham and we have found through this review their allegations to be substantiated.
‘Both GMP and Rochdale Council failed to respond appropriately to these concerns.
‘Successive police operations were launched over this period, but these were insufficiently resourced to match the scale of the widespread organised exploitation.
‘Consequently, children were left at risk and many of their abusers to this day have not been apprehended.’
Mr Newsam and Mr Ridgway said: ‘CSE continued to be treated as a low priority and under-resourced by GMP.’
By October 2012, a review group chaired by GMP identified 127 potential victims whose cases had not been acted on – a figure which later grew to 260 potential victims.
After Operation Span, three more investigations – Operation Routh, Operation Doublet and Operation Lytton – saw 30 men convicted, many of whom received lengthy sentences.
Files held by officials for 111 children revealed ‘a significant probability that 74 of these children were being sexually exploited at that time, and in 48 of those cases, there were serious failures to protect the child’, the report revealed.
Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, called the report ‘a detailed and distressing account of how many young people were so seriously failed’. Pictured: Mr Burnham at the funeral of Everton chairman Bill Kenwright on December 18 last year
A report into Rochdale’s grooming gangs has said officials committed a ‘serious failure to protect children’. Pictured: A view of Whitworth Road in Rochdale, where one gang used a flat to abuse girls
A fourth review is still to take place by Mr Newsam and Mr Ridgway, which is to ‘consider current practice across Greater Manchester to address the risk of child sexual exploitation’ and recent police investigations.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham called the report ‘a detailed and distressing account of how many young people were so seriously failed’.
He added: ‘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.’
He apologised to the victims and said: ‘We are sorry that you were so badly failed by the system that should have protected them.
‘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.’
A series of initiatives have taken place around Rochdale since 2012, including better engagement with potential victims and a scheme encouraging hotel owners and taxi firms to report concerns.
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’.
Rochdale Council leader Councillor Neil Emmott said the authority is ‘deeply sorry’ for the ‘very serious failures that affected the lives of children in our borough’ and how officials ‘failed to take the necessary action’.
And 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.
‘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.’
He added: ‘Since nine men were convicted following Operation Span in 2012, there have been a further 135 arrests, 432 charges, and 32 convictions (for child sex grooming).’
Shabir Ahmed, the ringleader of a child sex grooming gang, was jailed for 22 years in 2016
Ms Oliver, who resigned from Greater Manchester Police in 2012 to publicly reveal the extent of the police failings about child sexual exploitation, said she remained ‘angry’ that ‘not one senior officer or official has ever been held individually responsible for these failures, lies and cover ups’.
She said the report ‘confirms the truth of what I have been saying for over 12 years’.
Drawing a parallel with the ongoing Horizon scandal at the Post Office, she added: ‘There are so many parallels between that case and this: ‘ordinary’ people being criminalised and silenced, institutional cover ups and corruption in an effort to protect the brand whatever the cost to affected individuals, refusal to acknowledge any wrongdoing.’
She added: ‘I am also not assured that lessons have been learned. I can absolutely, categorically say that through our work today at The Maggie Oliver Foundation (a support group she founded), we see on a daily basis that victims and survivors of sexual offences are still routinely treated badly or even inhumanely, still not believed, still judged, still dismissed when they report these horrendous crimes.’
The report’s publication comes a year after an independent review into child sexual exploitation in neighbouring Oldham found the ringleader of a notorious grooming gang, Shabir Ahmed, later jailed for 22 years, was able to continue working as a welfare rights officer by Oldham Council with police failing to tell his employers even after his arrest.
It is not the first official report into child sex exploitation in Rochdale – a report in 2013 found that hundreds of young girls were allowed to fall into the hands of Asian grooming gangs because police and social workers may have been scared of seeming racist.
They refused to believe that race was an issue even though dozens of young, white girls were being specifically targeted and groomed for sex by older Pakistani men.
Children in the town of Rochdale were let down by all 17 agencies that were meant to protect them, the report said.
Police dismissed accusations of political correctness, saying the girls were targeted because they were vulnerable, not because they were white – but a review into the scandal said there was a ‘colour-blind’ approach by police and social workers that was ‘potentially dangerous’.
Timeline of the Rochdale grooming gang scandals
2008 – A 15-year-old girl reports to police she has been raped repeatedly by a gang of men, and gives details of the abuse taking place above a takeaway in Rochdale.
Police arrest two members of a grooming gang – ringleader Shabir Ahmed and Kabeer Hassan.
2009 – Police find evidence that Ahmed had sex with the girl, with the older man claiming she could have swapped underwear with a different young girl he had already admitted to having sex with. Later that year a Crown Prosecution Service lawyer rules that the victim’s evidence is ‘not credible’ and decides the accused should be released without charge.
2010 – Operation Span, a new operation looking into allegations of grooming gangs in Rochdale, is launched with DC Maggie Oliver involved.
2011 – Chief prosecutor for the CPS North West, Nazir Afzal, reverses this decision and authorises charges against the pair.
2012 – His decision is vindicated when Ahmed – then 59 – and eight other men were jailed for a total of 77 years for raping and abusing up to 47 girls aged as young as 13. This sparks apologies from the police, council and CPS for failures that allowed the men to continue abusing girls for an additional two years.
2013 – Maggie Oliver resigns from Greater Manchester Police, claiming that evidence was ignored that could have convicted men who weren’t part of the nine jailed the year before.
2016 – A second group of men are sentenced to up to 25 years in prison for sexual abuse after a victim, encouraged by previous convictions, comes forward with her ordeal.
2017 – A BBC documentary titled The Betrayed Girls features whistleblowers Ms Oliver and Sara Rowbothan, who ran an NHS sexual health clinic in Rochdale, with claims about grooming gangs.
Both alleged that multiple known abusers were left free to prey on a generation of girls, with grooming culture embedded in parts of the town.
The same year Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, orders a series of reports into how victims were protected up to 2013.
2023 – Five men are given sentences totalling more than 70 years after being found guilty of abusing two girls between 2002 and 2006.
2024 – The third of four reports into grooming gangs – and the first to focus on Rochdale – is released and points the finger at police and council bosses for failing to protect girls from their abusers.