A former detective who helped jail a gang of Rochdale sex groomers in 2012 says offenders identified during the original investigation are still at large and abusing young girls in the town.
Maggie Oliver made the claim ahead of a new drama about the scandal - Three Girls - which tells how child victims of abuse were dismissed as prostitutes and let down by the authorities.
The former detective constable turned whistleblower persuaded many of the victims to speak to the police but later resigned because of the way they were treated.
She became an outspoken critic of GMP and was recruited by the BBC as the consultant for their drama, which will be told across three hour-long programs broadcast on successive nights from Tuesday.
Her character is played by actress Lesley Sharpe.
But GMP defended their record saying they have made huge progress in tackling crimes against children.
Nine members of the Rochdale gang were jailed in 2012 but, writing about her experience for the M.E.N. the mother-of-four, from south Manchester, said other offenders who were identified as a result of Operation Span remained at large.
She writes: There are still paedophiles who we identified as part of Span who are out there right now in Rochdale. I still support many of the girls and they tell me they’ve seen them. Once a paedophile, always a paedophile in my book. This is still happening.
“It’s heart-breaking for the kids. My hope is this program encourages a proper, open and honest debate that leeds to changes in the law to make senior police officers accountable for their failures.”
Some 19 men have been jailed for grooming offences since 2012, the last tranche in February.
Assistant Chief Constable Rob Potts defended GMP’s record on dealing with child sexual exploitation (CSE).
He said: “Tackling the sexual exploitation of children and young people is an absolute priority for GMP and its partners. Protecting children is everyone’s responsibility and it is crucial that we work together to identify and prosecute individuals who prey on vulnerable children.
“Our specialist CSE teams in each division across Greater Manchester are successfully reaching out to young people. We have specially-trained officers who provide young people with on-going support, both from within the force and through key partner agencies.
“We have made huge progress in our fight against CSE and those who commit these horrendous crimes against children. The It’s Not Okay campaign was launched in September 2014 as part of GM-wide Project Phoenix, giving young people and their carers a crucial online resource.
The wider campaign provided a completely new approach to dealing with CSE, using education to prevent young people from becoming victims in the first place but at the same time targeting offenders and bringing them to justice.
“Project Phoenix has undertaken substantial work with schools, healthcare providers and support services to ensure that vulnerable young people are helped at every stage - from prevention through to support and rehabilitation.
Regular weeks of partnership activity, which include community engagement, disruption, education and police enforcement, means that thousands more young people are being engaged with than before.
“This increase in public awareness, as well as enhanced police officer understanding and more accurate recording of CSE reports, resulted in a significant rise in the number of CSE incidents reported to police.
“I want to reassure communities that our priority is to protect children and young people, prosecute offenders and prevent from committing further offences.”
'I believe this goes right to the top of government. They are more interested in covering up for mistakes instead of holding their hands up.'
Detective Constable Maggie Oliver resigned from GMP in disgust saying the force had failed the victims of the Rochdale sex grooming scandal. She had been central to the investigation and persuaded vulnerable and reluctant girls to give evidence against the paedophiles who had sexually abused them for years.
But one of the victims she convinced to speak ended up being portrayed as a member of the grooming gang in the subsequent trial. Maggie felt betrayed, ashamed and resigned. She became a whistleblower and a vocal critic of how police had mishandled the case. She worked with the BBC to dramatise her experience in, Three Girls, in which Lesley Sharpe plays her character.
This is Maggie’s story in her own words:
“When I joined Greater Manchester Police in 1996 I swore an oath like every other bobby who joins the job. I promised I would act with honesty and integrity, that I would protect the vulnerable and I would do my best to put away the bad guys. I was good at my job because I’d had a life before the cops. I knew how to speak to vulnerable kids.
"A lot of police officers don’t have a clue about that. Put me in front of a computer and ask me to do analysis and I’m useless. But I know how to speak to people.
What I saw in Rochdale was police officers and senior cops acting without any shame because it was convenient to ignore the abuse they knew was happening. I felt it was wicked. If I can’t look myself in the mirror and feel proud of what I’m doing then it makes me as bad as them. So I had to make a stand for what I believed was right.
“And don’t believe any of this rubbish that police have learned from their mistakes. I worked on an almost identical operation in 2004, Operation Augusta, which had identified dozens of young victims and dozens of suspects.
It was a virtual carbon copy of Rochdale, men of largely Pakistani heritage were abusing vulnerable white girls, in Hulme, and around the Curry Mile, in Rusholme. I was on that job for a year and a half. It was a huge investigation.
"My husband Norman became ill and sadly past away. I had to take time off and by the time I came back three months later the job had literally died a death. I was totally incredulous. It just didn’t make sense. It was as if it had never happened. The girls had told me what had happened. I’d gained their trust. I’d given them my word that GMP would take their allegations forward and that they should trust us.
"We’d found locations where the abuse had happened, vehicles used to transport the victims and had identified many serial sex offenders.
We also had social workers telling us they’d been trying to get the police to take this problem seriously for years. But not one offender was arrested or charged. I couldn’t believe it. It was as if none of it had ever happened. Nobody was ever able to explain to me why the case had been dropped.
I wanted to know because I’ve got four kids of my own. I believe if you don’t prosecute paedophiles you are leaving them free to abuse children for decades to come. As a result, I swore I’d never get involved in a job like that again.
“I just carried on with my role as a detective in the Major Incident Team and as a family liaison officer and worked on a number of big cases. But I was contacted in November 2010 and asked to join Operation Span, a major investigation into the abuse in Rochdale. The original investigation in 2008/9 had been a car crash.
"The girls had been labelled unreliable witnesses and the CPS had decided not to prosecute. I was being asked to regain the trust of these girls. I was given cast-iron guarantees that what had happened in 2004 would not happen again and I agreed to help.
I spent the next six months with members of one particular family who did many video interviews, ID parades and helped police identify locations, times, phones numbers and names of the abusers.
"They couldn’t have helped us more. They told me about the abuse they had suffered and by whom. I was with them almost every day. But then seven months later I was informed one of the victims would ‘not be used’ in the case. Basically, history was repeating itself.
They didn’t believe Amber, as she is referred to the in the BBC drama. Even though she had been a victim, she was accused of being involved in the grooming.
"She was named on the indictment along with the men in the dock as someone who had acted with the perpetrators. She was essentially portrayed as a madam. It was outrageous.
She’d been the victim of abuse from the age of 14. It made me sick to my stomach. I’d been used. This vulnerable girl had been failed. She was collateral damage. Because of that, social services also eventually tried to take her child from her. It was wicked and I was shocked. It was a repetition of 2004.
“I spent the next year knocking on every door in GMP. I went to the chief constable and the IPCC but they wouldn’t speak to me. Nobody wanted to know. I felt it was corrupt and so I resigned so I could speak out in public.
If you think about the Hillsborough scandal, it took 30 years for the lies of senior police officers to be exposed. I believe it’s the same with the grooming scandal. People make mistakes. If you hold your hands up and admit to them, that’s human.
But I wasn’t seeing that. I was seeing senior officers in the force letting these girls down. They turned a blind eye.
"In fact I believe this goes right to the top of government. I know that the Home Office was getting daily updates about Operation Span. They are more interested in covering up for mistakes instead of holding their hands up.
Operation Span, the resumed investigation, was held up as some kind of shining light about how these investigations should be run. It was far from it. Basics like recording each allegation of rape weren’t being done.
"That’s your first duty as a police officer, to record an allegation of a crime whether you believe it or not. Rape allegations weren’t being recorded so neither were the names of alleged perpetrators. How can you spot a pattern developing if you don’t record crimes properly.
“This has implications even today. There are still paedophiles who we identified as part of Span who are out there right now in Rochdale. I still support many of the girls and they tell me they’ve seen them. Once a paedophile, always a paedophile in my book.
This is still happening. It’s heart-breaking for the kids. My hope is this program encourages a proper, open and honest debate that leads to changes in the law to make senior police officers accountable for their failures.”