Rochdale abuse victim: Police didn't do their job then and they still aren't

Manchester’s most senior policeman called it "a culture of hopelessness".

An atmosphere of prejudice, laziness and plain incompetence among police, prosecutors and social workers in the town of Rochdale.

Terrible failings which meant that dozens of young teenage girls, groomed and abused for almost a decade, were ignored and disbelieved by those who were meant to help them.

Last May, nine men were jailed for a total of 77 years by a court in Liverpool for their part in a child exploitation gang.

They selected and groomed vulnerable young girls as young as thirteen, plying them with drink, drugs and presents in exchange for sex.

No-one in Rochdale believed that they were the only men guilty of such crimes – or that the five victims whose evidence was heard in court were the only girls to suffer.

Today a long-awaited Serious Case Review is published by Rochdale’s Safeguarding Children Board. It represents the response to the issues of child exploitation raised by that case.

And even in the dry and bureaucratic language it uses, the depth of failings by child protection agencies is very clear.

They could have prevented child exploitation – but through a combination of incompetence and disorganisation, they didn’t.

I spoke to a young woman who was one of the seven whose experiences formed the basis of the Review. For legal reasons, she can only be identified as 'Girl 6’.

Her first experience of grooming was as a fourteen year old girl in Rochdale: plied with vodka and cannabis, and then, when she was drunk, taken upstairs.

At the time, she says, she thought it was normal. It wasn’t until she was eighteen years old that she realised that what was happening was wrong. "After the first time," she told me, "my number was suddenly all over Rochdale. Everybody had it."

Men she didn’t know would call her up, asking her to 'come out chilling.’ What that meant, she says, was cheap vodka and cannabis. And then, always, sex.

Girl 6 says she went to Rochdale Police in 2005 with a complaint that a man had exposed himself to her. She was fourteen at the time.

But, she says, nobody wanted to know; officers put her in a car and gave her a lift back to her mother. She never went to the police again.

Girl 6 said men would call her to 'come out chilling'.
Girl 6 said men would call her to 'come out chilling'. Credit: ITV News

The pattern of exploitation was predictable: a young girl, often in care, would go missing. Her absence would be reported to police by social workers.

Everybody knew the reason – she was spending the night with an older man. But care workers were complacent about relationships everyone knew were wrong; and police, faced with young girls who insisted they were simply spending time with friends, found it easier to ignore what was happening.

The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Sir Peter Fahy, accepts that officers were in the habit of dismissing victims too quickly.

At the time, he says, detectives simply judged whether the victim would make a credible witness in court; their sufferings as victims were not considered.

And often, because the girls didn’t consider themselves victims – even if they were in an under-age relationship with a much older man – it was easier for police and prosecutors simply to do nothing.

That culture of hopelessness, he says, is now at an end. Rochdale has rebuilt its child protection agencies, and demanded they work better with police.

Prosecutors have promised to work with any victim who comes forward – even if their allegation dates back many years.

And they have warned any offender in Rochdale who thinks he has escaped: "we are coming for you next."

Girl 6 hopes that is true. But she claims there were around fifty girls exploited like her in Rochdale. And she insists that some of the abusers are still walking the streets.

She will only believe that things have changed in Rochdale when more of them are put behind bars.