Manchester sex abuse: ‘Fundamental flaws’ left children unprotected

Police and social workers investigating child sex exploitation in Manchester knew children were suffering “the most profound abuse… but did not protect them”, a report has found.

After a child’s death in 2003, police identified at least 97 “predominantly Asian” suspects, but “very few” faced justice, the independent review found.

The police operation was “prematurely closed down” after senior officers decided to “remove resources”, it said.

Police said “authorities fell short”.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) Assistant Chief Constable Mabs Hussain said the force was now reviewing all the cases covered in the report and had made a voluntary referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct “to determine if there are any conduct matters that should be investigated”.

The report, commissioned by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham as a result of the 2017 BBC documentary The Betrayed Girls, focussed on the death in 2003 of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia, who was in the care of Manchester City Council, and GMP’s subsequent Operation Augusta.

Victoria’s grandmother Joan Agoglia said the publication of the report made her feel “wonderful as I’ve been fighting for this all my life, it seems”.

‘Injected with heroin’

The operation was set up to tackle “the sexual exploitation throughout a wide area of a significant number of children in the care system by predominantly Asian men”, it said.

It said despite Victoria’s carers being aware of her being subjected to “multiple threats, sexual assaults and serious sexual exploitation” and revealing she was being “injected with heroin by an older Asian man… no action was taken by the police or social care”.

She subsequently died “having been administered an overdose”, but the men who exploited her “have never been brought to justice”, the report said, adding that its authors had been denied access to files relating to Victoria by the Manchester coroner.

At the time she died, Manchester Social Services said it had done everything possible to keep Victoria safe.

In 2004, a 50-year-old man was cleared of her manslaughter, but admitted two offences of injecting her with heroin and was jailed.

‘Prematurely closed down’

The report said Operation Augusta subsequently identified at least 57 children “as potential victims” and up to 97 “persons of interest” involved in the crimes against them.

However, it said while the investigation had the “intention of tackling the problems identified within the scoping phase… it soon became apparent this would not be quickly achievable given the resources”.

The report found the operation was ultimately “prematurely closed down… before it could complete its work”, a decision that was driven by a desire to “remove the resources”, rather than by having “a sound understanding that all lines of enquiry had been successfully completed or exhausted”.

“The authorities knew that many [children] were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from the perpetrators,” it said.

It added its authors had considered a “sample” of cases from the time and in each case had found that they “cannot offer any assurance” that alleged offences were “appropriately addressed by either GMP or Manchester City Council”.

The report also found eight men identified in Operation Augusta had gone on to commit serious sexual offences, including rapes of girls aged both under and over 16, after the operation was ended and that one suspect vehicle uncovered in the initial investigation was linked to a GMP officer, who was later dismissed from the force.

In conclusion, it said the family of Victoria and the children exploited must “be given the opportunity to ask that the crimes committed against them now be fully investigated”.

The mayor, GMP and Manchester City Council must also look at “how the people who appeared to present a risk to children in 2004 can now be brought to justice”.

It concluded that “any future approach” needed to “address the exploitation of a significant number of children as recognised by Operation Augusta”.

“Anything less would risk repeating the mistakes of the past and not give the survivors the justice they deserve,” it added.

‘Absolute priority’

ACC Mabs Hussain said the force “accept that authorities fell short of doing all they could to protect and support the child victims of sexual exploitation identified”.

“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.”

A major incident team has been established and is “reviewing all the information available”, he said, which has led to two men being arrested in connection with Victoria Agoglia’s death in September 2019.

The men have since been released while inquiries continue.

Speaking after the publication of the report, Mrs Agoglia said she was lied to by the police and social workers at the time of her granddaughter’s death, adding: “Where were they when Victoria was being abused?”

“I told them and I told them, Vicky came down time and time again to me… and she told me herself what these men had done to her.”

The report, by childcare expert Malcolm Newsam and former Det Supt Gary Ridgeway, forms the first half of a larger investigation launched after the broadcast of the BBC documentary about child sex exploitation in Greater Manchester.

It said the second half had been delayed due to the need for a “data processing agreement”, which had “recently been signed”, allowing work to now progress.

Apologising for the multi-agency failings, Mr Burnham said the report made “extremely difficult reading” but it was “only by fully facing up to past failures that we will be able to correct them”.

He said Victoria’s death “should have been a wake-up call” as it “exposed a network of paedophiles brazenly abusing young people 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.”

He added the system was “guilty of appalling failings” and that going forward, “we will have a zero tolerance approach to child sexual exploitation of any kind”.

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