Report by Granada Reports correspondent Elaine Willcox
There were serious failings into the handling of Child Sexual Exploitation cases in Oldham with some children failed by agencies meant to protect them, a report has found.
In one case a victim, known as Sophie, was continuously ignored when she tried to report being repeatedly raped, aged 12, after being abducted from Oldham Police Station.
The report, into the historic child sexual exploitation in Oldham, found interventions by Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police (GMP) fell "far short" of what was required.
It added that denials made to Sophie by the council and GMP led to "the impression both were more concerned about covering up their failures than acknowledging the harm that had been done."
But, despite the failings, the authors found "no evidence... to suggest senior managers sought to cover-up the existence of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE)", or evidence of widespread abuse.
The independent review, which began in 2019, investigates the responses of the council and its partners, including GMP, to allegations of child sexual exploitation in the borough dating back to 2011.
It specifically looked at the allegation of of ‘Sophie’ who complained about the handling of her case during 2005 and 2006, as well as at ’shisha bars, taxi companies and children’s homes’ between 2011 and 2014.
It was commissioned by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham following a request by Oldham Council and has been carried out by Malcolm Newsam, a former commissioner for social care in Rotherham, and Detective Superintendent Gary Ridgway of Cambridgeshire Police, who worked on the Operation Augusta investigation in south Manchester.
What did the report find?
The report, published on Monday 20 June, said "children had been failed by the agencies meant to protect them because child protection procedures had not been properly followed".
It added structural flaws within multi-agency systems set up to tackle CSE led to poor practice and some children not being protected or perpetrators not being caught sooner.
The review also looked into the case of Sophie, who raised serious allegations she was subjected to "profound sexual exploitation" aged 12, and that the council and GMP had failed to protect her.
In 2019, aged 25, she wrote a letter to the then Oldham Council leader in 2019, copying in Andy Burnham, with allegations about her rape, "a large-scale grooming operation", and asking for apologies over what she believed was a "cover-up".
The report found that GMP ignored key evidence in regards to the multiple rape allegations, and although two offenders were identified, no action was taken.
In 2009, one offender, known as E, was sentenced to nine years in prison for raping another child, three years later Sophie reported his abuse of her to police and he was sentenced to another 11 years.
Oldham Council staff
The review looked into cases of known offenders previously employed by Oldham Council and how their "historical actions and employment records" were investigated by the council.
It highlighted one case, of Shabir Ahmed, the ringleader of Rochdale's grooming gang, who called himself 'Daddy'.
He was employed by Oldham Council between 1988 and 2006 as a welfare rights officer, seconded to the Oldham Pakistani Community Centre.
In May 2012, he was found guilty of two rapes, aiding and abetting rape, sexual assault, trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, and was sentenced to 19 years in prison.
A month later he was found guilty of a further 30 rapes and jailed for an additional 22 years.
The review found "serious failings" in how GMP and the council investigated concerns for Ahmed - and if procedures had been followed the abuse of subsequent victims "may have been prevented".
The review found evidence that a small number of Oldham taxi drivers had been accused of, or found guilty of, sexual offences against children.
Two cases were "of concern" for the reviewers - and they said there were "sufficient concerns" presented to the Council to revoke one of the driver's licences.
However, the reviewers said there was no evidence senior managers or councillors sought to cover up the potential exploitation of children by local drivers.
The review found that although there was no evidence to suggest widespread exploitation of children in residential settings, some children were being exposed to CSE.
Some abuse occurred prior to admission, but there was also evidence some children who had not been exposed were drawn into it through the encouragement of other residents.
Residential staff "worked in a professional and supportive way" with the children to win their trust and protest them from further abuse, the report added.
The review found Oldham Council and GMP were aware of the potential threat presented by shisha bars by the end of 2010.
Specific children, as young as 13, who were known to be sexually exploited were visiting premises in 2011, and continued until 2013.
Despite patrols and intelligence reports around the bars, a weakness in the multi-agency messaging system meant the vulnerable children highlighted slipped through.
What is the response from Greater Manchester Combined Authority, GMP, and Oldham Council?
All the authorities involved have apologised to the victims in the report.
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, says: "This report continues the process of shining a spotlight on our past failures in Greater Manchester.
"Whilst difficult to read, it has identified a number of wrongs that need to be put right.
"There were serious failings and victims were let down, particularly Sophie.
"Whilst there is no evidence of a cover up, we must not flinch from acknowledging shortcomings."
Amanda Chadderton, the Leader of Oldham Council, said: "We fully accept the findings of this independent report.
"It highlights clear failings, where out services at the time were not good enough to protect vulnerable young people suffering the most awful abuse. For that I am deeply sorry.
"I can never fully understand what these girls went through, and I also know that an apology now will never make up for what happened in the past."
She added that the council has not "stood still" and has changed the way things are done as a result.
Stephen Watson, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said: "I want to offer my sincere apologies to everyone affected by the events considered in the report.
"Our actions fell far short of the help that they had every right to expect and were unacceptable.
"I'm sorry for the hurt and on-going trauma they have suffered because of what happened to them."
Barrister Harriet Johnson is an authority on the issue of violence towards women and girls.
She spoke to Granada Reports presenters Lucy Meacock and Gamal Fahnbulleh following publication of the report.
If anyone suspects a child or young person is being abused in Oldham, the council encourages them to make a child protection referral to them.
They can call the Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub (MASH) on 0161 770 7777 on fill in a safeguarding referral form. If someone is in immediate danger call 999.
Every local authority in Greater Manchester has a MASH and details can be found on council websites.
Safeguarding in Greater Manchester
If you have been affected by these issues, contact Greater Manchester Victim Support on 0300 303 0162. If you need support out of hours, call the Support Line on 0808 16 89 111.
Support and advice for children and young people, parents and carers, and professionals about all aspects of child sexual exploitation is available from itsnotokay.co.uk, as well as information about how to report it.
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