Schoolgirl raped multiple times after abduction from Oldham police station 'failed' by authorities
Report by Granada Reports correspondent Elaine Willcox
A schoolgirl raped multiple times by five men was "let down" by authorities who were "more concerned about covering up their failures", a report has found.
Opportunities were also missed to bring her abusers to justice, and council and police chiefs tried to deny any wrong doing when approached six years later for an apology, the report added.
Her case, which began in 2006, forms part of an independent report into Child Sexual Exploitation cases in Oldham, which found serious failings by both Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
But, it was only included after 'Sophie' wrote an open letter to-then council leader Sean Fielding asking for it to be included, following years of denials that mistakes had been made.
Sophie was just 12 when she was abducted from Oldham Police Station after bravely telling officers she had been assaulted.
She was then raped over several hours by five different men - but despite the schoolgirl giving a full account of her abuse, only two arrests were ever made.
The report, into the historic abuse, found interventions by the council and GMP fell "far short" of what was required.
It added that denials of any wrong doing made to Sophie by the authorities led to "the impression both were more concerned about covering up their failures than acknowledging the harm that had been done."
Maggie Oliver, who helped Sophie get her story into the review, said there was a concerted effort to silence her.
She added: "The review shows that GMP and their Professional Standards Body repeatedly and deliberately hid the truth in relation to her case and its incompetent investigation for over 15 years.
"Oldham council repeatedly stated they had contacted Sophie in relation to the review, and yet that was not true.
"It was only because I was already supporting Sophie that she contacted me and my Foundation in desperation.
"I immediately approached the review team direct, and this is the only reason her story has been exposed. It would otherwise have remained hidden again, despite Sophie’s 15 year battle to get to the truth."
In 2019 Sophie wrote an open letter to the leader of Oldham Council, copying in Andy Burnham, with allegations about her rapes, "a large-scale grooming operation", and asking for apologies over what she believed was a "cover-up".
The report said: "There were significant opportunities missed by children’s social care to intervene and put in place appropriate arrangements to protect Sophie.
"We believe that the interventions of both the council and Greater Manchester Police fell far short of what was required to protect Sophie at the time, and these failures have been compounded by the denials that have subsequently been issued to Sophie and feed a view that both agencies are more concerned about covering up their failures than acknowledging the harm had been done to a vulnerable young person."
Amanda Chadderton, leader of Oldham Council, apologised "wholeheartedly" for the mistakes made.
How did Sophie's case unfold?
Sophie first came into contact with social services in 2006, where she told support workers she had been "talking to older men on the internet".
There were "at least" two occasions when safeguarding procedures should have been begun, which may have protected Sophie from the "predatory males who ended up abusing her", the report says.
Despite circumstances indicating she had been sexually active, no referral was ever made to police, and nothing was documented - something report authors described as a "considerable shortfall".
Sophie was groomed by an older man, Paul Waites - named as Offender E - in internet chat rooms, which led to him sexually assaulting and raping her.
But, despite numerous admissions by Sophie to social workers about the relationship, evidence he was a risk was not followed up.
Waites, who was in his early 30s at the time, was a serial paedophile.
He was jailed in 2009 for possessing indecent images of children, and in 2015 was convicted of raping Sophie and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
In 2020, the former teacher was handed a life sentence for sexually abusing another girl in 2005.
The report added that had further action been taken around Waites it could have "prevented any further offences Offender E committed against children".
As Sophie tried to report Waites to police, officers dismissed her and told her to "re-attend [the station] with an adult when she was not drunk".
But, as she left, she was coaxed into a car by 39-year-old Shakil Chowdhury, and driven to a house where she was raped by five men over a number of hours.
She was sexually assaulted in a car, before being left near a park and raped in the house of man, Sarwar Ali, who she had asked for directions.
Sophie was then picked up by a man who was posing as a taxi driver, named Shakil Chowdhury, who had promised to help her.
Only Chowdhury and Ali were ever arrested, with Chowdhury jailed in 2007 for six years after pleading guilty to six counts of rape. Ali, was charged by fled the country.
During his trial Chowdhury named two other men involved in the rapes of Sophie as part of his mitigation, but these were not followed up by GMP at the time, the report states, and is branded "another serious failure".
The report highlights a number of times GMP failed to investigate lines of inquiry in regards to the other men, each, the authors say, was a "serious failure".
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."
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