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Children 'left at mercy' of grooming gangs for years in Rochdale as dozens of men still deemed a potential risk
15 January 2024, 09:54 | Updated: 15 January 2024, 12:05
Children were "left at the mercy" of grooming gangs for years as dozens of men remain a potential risk, a damning report has found.
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The 173-page report - commissioned by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham - sets out multiple failed investigations by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) between 2004 and 2013.
There was local authority indifference to the plight of hundreds of youngsters, mainly white girls from poor backgrounds, all identified as potential victims of abuse in Rochdale by Asian men, the review found.
It identified 96 men still deemed a potential risk to children, but this is "only a proportion" of the numbers involved in the abuse.
Malcolm Newsam CBE, co-author of the report, said: "Successive police operations were launched over this period, but these were insufficiently resourced to match the scale of the widespread organised exploitation within the area.
"Consequently, children were left at risk and many of their abusers to this day have not been apprehended."
Speaking to LBC on Monday, Rishi Sunak said: "These are heinous crimes and I've spoken about them in the past of my determination to make sure that we tackle them properly and do everything we can to prevent them from happening in the first place.
"And that's why we've established a grooming gangs task force, which is sharing the intelligence about how best to find and route out these types of crimes and make sure all the different partners in a local area are working together to identify vulnerable children.
"We can't let these children down, and where that has happened in the past... it's right that people are being held to account for that.
"We've got to learn those lessons and double down on tackling these kinds of crimes because they are appalling and heinous."
The Rochdale report follows reports by the same authors on grooming in Manchester and Oldham, which found authorities had again failed children leaving them in the clutches of paedophile gangs.
It states there was "compelling evidence" of widespread, organised sexual abuse of children in Rochdale from as early as 2004 onwards, citing multiple reports of the involvement of groups of Asian men.
But children's unwillingness to make a formal complaint was repeatedly used as an excuse for not investigating.
In 2007, the Crisis Intervention Team, led by whistleblower Sara Rowbotham, alerted GMP and Rochdale Council to the presence of an organised crime group involved.
GMP identified the ring-leaders, described as "prolific career criminals", but did not investigate further because children were too frightened to assist.
The report said this was a "serious failure" to protect the children, ignoring the coercion and control the groomers had over their victims and families, who were sometimes threatened or subjected to violence or had their homes attacked.
Another police investigation into two takeaway shops in Rochdale, involving 30 adult male suspects, was also aborted as police bosses failed to resource it and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deemed the main child victim an unreliable witness.
Three years later, in January 2010, the specialist multi-agency Sunrise Team was set up in Rochdale where a child told a social worker of the widescale abuse of children by up to 60 men.
Andy Burnham reads from report that police left children ‘at mercy’ of grooming gang paedophiles
GMP finally acted in December 2010, launching Operation Span which led to the conviction in May 2012 of nine men in a high-profile court case attracting far-right demonstrators.
The trial heard girls as young as 12 were plied with alcohol and drugs and gang raped in rooms above takeaway shops and ferried to different flats in taxis where cash was paid to use the girls.
But while the force hailed Operation Span as "a fantastic result for British justice", the report states the police operation failed to address numerous other crimes and ignored children's allegations leaving their abusers off the hook.
The court convictions were presented as having "resolved" grooming in the town, but in reality it had "only scraped the surface" the report said.
And while the "public face of GMP" reassured the public it was a police priority to pursue further child groomers this was "far from the case on the ground".
GMP have since launched further investigations, which have so far resulted in the conviction of 42 men involved in the abuse of 13 children.
The report concludes the scale of abuse in Rochdale was known about by senior and middle managers in the police and children's social care, but the problem was not given "sufficient priority".
Andy Burnham said the report was "hard to read", adding that it gave a "detailed and distressing" account of how many young people were failed.
"That said, it fulfils the purpose of why I set up this review in the first place," Mr Burnham said.
"It is only by facing up fully and unflinchingly to what happened that we can be sure of bringing the whole system culture change needed when it comes to protecting children from abuse."
He continued: "We are sorry that you were so badly failed by the system that should have protected you.
"I would also like to praise those who blew the whistle on their behalf, particularly (former Rochdale health worker) Sara Rowbotham and Maggie Oliver, and for the support they have provided to them ever since. That took huge courage and determination and we thank them for it."
Rochdale Council leader Councillor Neil Emmott said: "We are deeply sorry that the people who were at Rochdale Council during the period 2004 to 2013 did not recognise nor acknowledge the very serious failures that affected the lives of children in our borough and failed to take the necessary action.
"I want to reassure the public that those responsible are gone and long gone."
Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Stephen Watson said: "It remains a matter of profound regret that victims of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale in the early 2000s were failed by Greater Manchester Police - to them, I apologise.
"Whilst the report rightfully vindicates Maggie and Sara (Rowbotham) and reinforces the importance of the changes we have already made - many with Maggie's support, it remains to be said that the current prevention of and response to child sexual exploitation in Rochdale and across Greater Manchester has been overhauled since the early 2000s to ensure that victims and survivors are cared for and receive the expected level of service."