A damning report has been released today.
Victims of child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester are having their cases newly investigated as a result of a review commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.
Following the airing of the BBC documentary, The Betrayed Girls, about child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester on 3 July 2017, the Mayor announced he wanted to assure himself and the public that everything possible has been done to protect children today and in the future and prevent it from happening again.
The findings of the first independent review have been published today - “An assurance review of Operation Augusta.”
The report, written by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway, considers the Operation Augusta investigation, which was launched by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) following the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia, who – after years of abuse and days after she was injected with heroin by a 50-year-old man - died in hospital of an overdose in 2003.
Whilst the report states there is much to be commended in Operation Augusta, it found that it had not addressed the issue it was set up for: to tackle the sexual exploitation of a number of children in the care system. Very few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice and neither were their activities disrupted, although there were eight criminal justice outcomes in total. Seven were prosecutions relating to police investigations and one was an immigration outcome.
Off the back of this review, a new investigation under Operation Green Jacket has been opened by GMP, which encompasses both Victoria Agoglia’s case and those involved in Operation Augusta.
Whilst Victoria’s death was investigated at the time, allegations of long standing sexual abuse that preceded her death have never been investigated and perpetrators not pursued.
In terms of further reviews:
Work continues on the remaining workstreams of the review including the assurance exercise into non-recent child sexual exploitation in Rochdale
Support for the delivery of a separate assurance review into child sexual exploitation in Oldham which has been commissioned by Oldham Council and the borough’s Safeguarding Partnership.
Operation Augusta was set up in 2004 and uncovered the systematic exploitation of looked after children mainly in the care system in the city of Manchester. The review team undertook detailed analysis of a sample of 25 children known to Operation Augusta and concluded that there was a significant possibility that 16 children were being sexually exploited. The age of the children who were being exploited ranged from 13 to 16 with children as young as 14 reported to have ‘boyfriends’ in their mid-20s who were abusing them.
They also found that there was continued over-reliance by investigators in Operation Augusta on the co-operation of the child victims despite the obvious coercion and control exhibited by their perpetrators and that multi-agency strategy meetings focused on agencies encouraging the children to protect themselves rather than providing means of protection for them. This was despite the 2004 Part 8 review into the death of Victoria Agoglia stating that “There should never be an expectation that vulnerable children / young people can provide protection for themselves.”
Officers conducting the initial phase of the investigation reported that there were potentially 97 persons of interest who had been identified as being involved in some way in the sexual exploitation of children as a perpetrator, facilitator or an associate of either. The scoping report of Operation Augusta described these persons as predominantly Asian men working in the restaurant industry. The review team independently identified 68 individuals known to Operation Augusta who it could reasonably be assumed had been a part of this group. But instead of them being prosecuted and the victims protected, senior officers prematurely closed Operation Augusta down in 2005 before it could complete its work. The review team’s judgement is that this was driven by a decision to remove resources from the investigation rather than a sound understanding that all lines of enquiry had been successfully completed or exhausted.
The review team concluded that they could offer no assurance that appropriate action was taken by Greater Manchester Police or the responsible local authority to address the risk in relation to 16 children in their sample including Victoria Agoglia. Fifteen of these children were the responsibility of Manchester City Council. In respect of the remaining nine children in the sample, the review team conclude that there was insufficient available information for them to form a view as to whether the children had experienced sexual exploitation or whether these concerns were appropriately addressed.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “In 2017, two TV programmes were broadcast about child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester. The first, the Three Girls drama, depicted distressing events in 2012, and the second, The Betrayed Girls documentary, included a former GMP detective who raised concerns publicly about the abrupt termination of an earlier investigation in Manchester - Operation Augusta in 2005.
“This suggestion that there had been a repeated failure to protect children in Greater Manchester led me to set up this review. I am grateful to Malcolm and Gary for the patient and painstaking way in which they have shone a light on this dark chapter and to Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council for their cooperation with the review process.
“The report makes extremely difficult reading. But, it is only by fully facing up to past failures - however painful that is - that we will be able to correct them as best we can and better protect children today.
“Victoria’s death should have been a wake-up call on child sexual exploitation to the whole of Greater Manchester. But it wasn’t. Her death exposed a network of paedophiles brazenly abusing young people – girls and boys - in care. Each and every one of those abusers should have been brought to justice but, appallingly, most escaped and some were left to reoffend.
“This report reveals the same problematic institutional mindset in public authorities that we have seen elsewhere: young, vulnerable girls not seen as the true victims by those whose job it was to protect them but instead as the problem. The system was guilty of appalling failings and I say sorry to all the victims that they were let down in this way. But I can also say to them that I am determined to ensure others will not suffer in the way they have. My goal in publishing this report is to banish for good from Greater Manchester the old mindset that failed them so badly. We will have a zero tolerance approach to child sexual exploitation of any kind and authorities will hunt it down and root it out wherever it is found.
“The fact that a new criminal investigation has been opened by GMP shows that it was right to commission this review and I will ensure that they will have all the resources they need to give the victims the justice they have so long waited to see.
“Finally, I wish to praise the work of the whistleblowers without whose courage and determination the truth would never have been told.”
Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and Chair of the Child Sexual Exploitation Steering Group, Bev Hughes added: “There can be no justifiable reason for the abandonment of Operation Augusta - a major investigation of systemic sexual abuse of children in the care of local authorities. This report lays bare the most profound abuse to which these young people were subjected, when they and their families had every reason to expect they would be safeguarded. When Operation Augusta was abruptly curtailed, children were left unprotected and perpetrators free to continue their appalling activities.
“I want to thank those who have campaigned tirelessly to expose this issue, and the review team for their commitment and dedication in undertaking this difficult work. The report has, at long last, given voice to these young people who until now, have not been heard.
“Cooperation by Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council was essential in enabling the review to be completed and also for Victoria’s case and others linked to hers to now be subject to a new criminal investigation. That is absolutely right and I hope it will eventually bring some justice for these young people and their families.
“We will never shy away from investigating allegations of this kind. Ultimately it is our responsibility to learn from the mistakes of the past, uncover child sexual exploitation, encourage people to report it, prosecute it and do all we can to prevent it.
“Although since that time there have been improvements in the investigation of child sexual abuse, not least in Greater Manchester this report, also demonstrates that we can and must never be complacent. We must remain vigilant to the continually evolving threats our children face, challenge our own practice and ensure as far as we possibly can that we have the best systems in place to protect our children and bring perpetrators to justice.”
Report co-author Malcolm Newsam said: “Operation Augusta was set up to address the sexual exploitation throughout a wide area of a significant number of children in the care system. Our assurance review has established that very few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice and neither were their activities disrupted.
“Most of the children we have considered were failed by the police and children’s services. The authorities knew that many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from their perpetrators. Now as adults, they should be given the opportunity to ask that the crimes committed against them be fully investigated. We would also apply the same expectation to the family of Victoria Agoglia, who have been asking for her abuse to be investigated since her tragic death in 2003.
“Furthermore, the Mayor, as Police and Crime Commissioner, must consider with Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council 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.”
Since Operation Augusta there has been a significant change in how child sexual exploitation is viewed: it is recognised as a serious form of child abuse. Statutory agencies now work better together through multi-agency integrated teams and services to proactively prevent children from being exploited in the first place, finding and prosecuting the perpetrators when it happens, and putting victims first by listening to them and believing them and providing them with the support they need.
A Greater Manchester Safeguarding Standards Board has also been created with representatives from each of the 10 local safeguarding partnerships, chaired by an independent expert, to provide independent scrutiny to see how well Greater Manchester is responding to this complex and difficult issue. It is now subject to peer review and the outcomes are being checked again by national experts external to Greater Manchester.
If you have information relating to these issues and you’d like to contact someone about it or if you have been affected by these issues, please contact this independent helpline 0808 168 9024. This service is provided by Victim Support.
Greater Manchester Police released the following statement:
Assistant Chief Constable Mabs Hussain, Head of Specialist Crime for Greater Manchester Police, said: “We accept that authorities fell short of doing all they could to protect and support the child victims of sexual exploitation identified under Operation Augusta in 2004.
“Children should be able to expect those responsible for their care will do all they can to keep them safe and I want to apologise to all those vulnerable children who were let down. I can only imagine the pain and distress they must have gone through, which would have only been made worse by these failings. I am sorry they were let down and I am sorry they were not protected from harm.
“Many of the children were subject to the most profound abuse and, although the review team acknowledged there was much in Operation Augusta and the work carried out by the investigation team to be commended, we agree the overall operation was not to the standard rightfully expected from victims. We have made a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct so that they can carry out an independent assessment to determine if there are any conduct matters that should be investigated.
“We and our partners at Manchester City Council have personally contacted all but one victim featured in the report to offer them any support we can ahead of it being published. Each contact was carefully planned with care professionals to ensure we were as sensitive as possible and further specialist support was offered.
“Of course back in early 2000s, the priorities for forces across the UK were very different. This has completely changed and today safeguarding the vulnerable is our absolute priority.
“After taking learnings from the Operation Span investigation in Rochdale and the significant convictions secured in 2013, we have worked closely with partners across Greater Manchester to develop a consistent standard in addressing the exploitation of young people. This approach puts the victim at the centre of everything we do, which ensures that proper support is provided by the right agencies and any safeguarding concerns are addressed.
“With this support from partners, it provides a stronger footing for police to prevent, disrupt and investigate these crimes. The work of these specialised teams under Project Phoenix has been recognised nationally as showing excellent working practice in tackling child sexual exploitation across Greater Manchester.
“Our work initially focused on child sexual exploitation. We have continued to learn and develop these principles with partners over the last six years. As a result we have made further improvements to our whole approach to tackling the abuse and exploitation of young people.
“These improvements include the introduction of specialist co-located multi-agency ‘Complex Safeguarding Teams’ in every district across Greater Manchester. These focus on all aspects of exploitation including CSE, criminal exploitation and modern slavery.
“A Major Incident Team has been established under Operation Green Jacket. This dedicated multi-agency team has already carried out a significant amount of disruption actions, as well as numerous safeguarding visits.
“We have been reviewing all the information available and now a full investigation has been launched. To date, this investigation has resulted in one man being arrested and another interviewed under caution in September 2019 in connection with the abuse of Victoria Agoglia. The men have been released under investigation and we have provided an update to Victoria’s grandmother on the progress of our enquiries.
“This remains an ongoing investigation and I would encourage anyone who was involved in the original operation as a victim, potential victim or witness to please come forward and contact us so that we and partner agencies can provide you with any support we can.
“We will continue to do all that we can to safeguard children within our communities. Greater Manchester Police will investigate any report of child exploitation that is made.”
If you have been affected by this case and wish to speak to police, or if you believe you have information that can assist the investigation team, they can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org
If you have been affected by this case and would like to seek support from specialist agencies but do not wish to speak to police, then Victim Support can be contacted on 08081689024.