- Video report by ITV News Correspondent Damon Green
A police chief has apologised to the children abused by grooming gang his officers failed to bring to justice and said he is "personally disgusted" the children were not cared for.
Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Ian Hopkins spoke after a damning report revealed the gangs of predominately Asian men were abusing children and operating in "plain sight" of police and local authorities.
Most of the victims were in care and authorities knew they were being "subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation" but did "not protect them from the perpetrators."
Some victims told carers and police officers about the sexual assaults, giving names and addresses.
The 145-page report into child exploitation in Manchester found no action was taken.
Mr Hopkins, who became head of the force in 2015, said: “On behalf of Greater Manchester Police (GMP), I want to apologise to all those vulnerable children who were let down in 2004 when GMP did not thoroughly investigate the abhorrent offences that had been committed against them.
“I want to say that I am personally disgusted that these children were not cared for and the awful abuse they suffered.
"I'm committed to doing all that we can to ensure they receive the justice today that they were denied 15 years ago."
A police drive called Operation Augusta to tackle street grooming by gangs of Asian males preying on vulnerable teenage girls in Manchester was launched then abruptly closed down by senior officers in 2004.
GMP has re-launched the grooming investigation, now called Operation Green Jacket, and identified 53 potential victims, 48 of them in council care at the time with “viable lines of enquiry” to investigate regarding 38 victims.
The report centres on Operation Augusta, set up in 2004, prompted by the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia, a girl under the care of Manchester City Council.
Victoria reported being raped and injected with heroin by a 50-year-old Asian man. She died of a drugs overdose two months later on September 29, 2003.
The police operation identified at least 57 victims and 97 potential suspects, some involved with Victoria.
Speaking at a press conference on the report's findings, Joan Agoglia, Victoria's grandmother, said the authorities failed her and her granddaughter.
"Nobody, nobody came to me, the social never came, I kept on telling them and telling them, and they won't listen, none of them listened to me, they never said they were sorry, they never even came to see me," Ms Agoglia said.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham who commissioned the report said the level of failing to the victims was "appalling".
"The harm caused to so many lives, and it's not been corrected for 15 years, we have had people calling for this to be reopened and it should have opened sooner," he admitted.
But he said GMP will always "face up to allegations of this kind" and will be "relentless" in protecting children and young people.
Mr Burnham added: "As well as hunting down and rooting out child sexual exploitation wherever we may find it, in any community."
Mr Burnham ordered the ‘assurance review’ after the BBC street grooming documentary The Betrayed Girls was broadcast in 2017.
It featured Maggie Oliver, a former GMP detective turned whistleblower who worked on Operation Augusta.
She said there was a "deliberate and intentional desire to bury the truth" at GMP.
"This has been 15 years of my life, it has almost destroyed me, I've lost my job, I've lost my home, I've lost my health, Joan [Agoglia] has lost her granddaughter, all those children we knew were being abused were cast aside," Ms Oliver said.
"How many more children have those abusers abused in 15 years? It is unforgivable and this report makes me feel vindicated, it actually gives me a sense of closure."
After Victoria's death, detectives established a "compelling picture of the systemic exploitation of looked after children in the care system".
Despite this, senior officers at Greater Manchester Police (GMP) chose to under-resource the investigation, the report said.
It added that a decision was made to close it down which was then communicated to senior officers of Manchester City Council at a meeting later that day on April 22, 2005.
Minutes of both meetings have disappeared.
One officer’s note mentioned discussion of "press strategies" and several officials have chosen not to co-operate with the review.
Its authors were also refused access to case files relating to Victoria held by the Manchester City Coroner.
The report looked at a "sample" of cases from the time, detailing a series of allegations of rape and sexual abuse made by girls that were not followed up and with no further action taken by GMP or the council.
In each case the report concludes repeatedly with the same sentence: "We cannot offer any assurance that this was appropriately addressed by either GMP or Manchester City Council."
As a result, "very few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice and neither were their activities disrupted".
This was despite "clear evidence" teenage girls, aged 12 to 16, were being sexually abused "generally perpetrated by a group of older Asian men" including the police having their names, where they lived or worked and the flats above take-away shops where the abuse occurred.
It included plying girls with drugs and alcohol, physical abuse, rape and being forced to have sex with multiple men at "sex parties".
One suspect's vehicle uncovered in the initial investigation was linked to a GMP officer, who was later dismissed, the report said.
Some suspects even visited council-run children’s homes, bringing alcohol and cannabis, with the apparent knowledge of council staff.
The report concludes it would be "wrong" to say Operation Augusta continuing would have "prevented further offending" but is "of concern" potential suspects have since been involved in grooming.
It calls on the mayor, police and council to consider how "the people who appeared to present a risk to children in 2004 can now be brought to justice and any risk they still present to children mitigated".