Police, social workers and the Crown Prosecution Service "missed opportunities" to stop the sexual abuse of young girls in Rochdale, a report into the scandal has revealed.
Vulnerable young girls, some as young as 10, who were being targeted for sexual abuse, were written off by those in authority who believed they were "making their own choices".
The review into child sexual exploitation by the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board was ordered in the aftermath of a trial which saw nine Asian men jailed for grooming young white girls for sex.
The report concluded that "deficiencies" in the way children's social care responded to the victims' needs in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, were caused by "patchy" training of frontline staff.
The review comes days after The Times published a report which alleged that agencies in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, were aware of extensive abuse of white girls by some Asian men.
The report looked at how agencies including the police, council, NHS and Crown Prosecution Service worked between 2007 and 2012 to young people who were at risk of sexual exploitation.
The report, which specifically followed the treatment of one 15-year-old victim, says:
While some organisations were consistently supportive in their response, overall child welfare organisations missed opportunities to provide a comprehensive, co-ordinated and timely response and, in addition, the criminal justice system missed opportunities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Activity to disrupt alleged offenders was developing on the ground but this was not always followed through at a more senior level. The early investigations of crimes and the prosecution of alleged offenders were flawed.
Although, between 2009 and February 2012, some improvements had been consolidated, the review acknowledges there were missed opportunities, over the last five years, to safeguard children and young people who have been affected by sexual exploitation.
The report was ordered in the aftermath of a trial which saw nine Asian men receive jail sentences between four and 19 years.
The judge said they treated victims "as though they were worthless and beyond any respect".
Five girls, aged between 13 and 15, were given food, money and alcohol in return for sex - violence was used on occasions.
The victims were from "council estate", "chaotic" backgrounds and as many as 50 girls could have been victims of the gang, police said.
A chance to stop the gang was missed in 2008 and both the police and the CPS were forced to apologise for their failings.
A victim, who was 15 when the abuse began, told police in August 2008 of her abuse at two members of the gang who would later be jailed for four years,
Her complaint was not taken seriously and she carried on being abused by the gang until December 2008 when she fell pregnant and moved away.
Richard Scorer, a solicitor for some of the abused girls, told ITV's Daybreak it was "very likely" they would be taking legal action against the authorities for failing to protect them.
Mr Scorer said the report was "very, very damning", and highlighted "a whole catalogue of failings, mainly by Rochdale social services".
RBSCB chairwoman Lynne Jones said changes have been "implemented" after the shocking report.
We have responded to this review and improvements have been implemented. I believe organisations are working better together, sharing information to ensure children are protected and that perpetrators of these crimes are prosecuted.
Raising awareness so that young people are better equipped to understand what is happening to them or their friends has been delivered to 10,000 young people.
Staff training has ensured that professionals are now more aware and able to respond appropriately.
We are also seeing stronger joint working on police operations to bring people to justice.
What the report found:
- Training for frontline staff was "patchy".
- There were "deficiencies" in the way that children's social care responded to the victims' needs.
- In children's social care, the focus was on younger children at risk of abuse from family members, rather than vulnerable adolescents.
- Agencies which referred potential victims were said to be "frustrated" that they were not "being adequately assessedand dealt with by the local authority".
- Organisations made faltering early progress in developing a satisfactory framework for managing allegations of child sexual exploitation.
- In 2008 a need for a specialist resource was identified, but its development was inadequately co-ordinated and supported.
- There was a poor response by children's social care to cases where children were at risk of sexual exploitation.