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GMP and children's services failed in Operation Augusta, report finds

A report has found "fundamental flaws" in police and children's services' response to the systematic abuse of vulnerable young girls in Manchester

A damning report into the failures of Greater Manchester Police and local children’s services to investigate offences against young girls in care, known as Operation Augusta, was released today, and said that dozens of children were abused and groomed “in plain sight”.

Commissioned by Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, the 145-page-report was produced by former Detective Superintendent with Cambridgeshire Police, Gary Ridgeway and child care expert Malcolm Newsam. It reveals the neglect of historic allegations of child sexual exploitation of young girls mostly under local authority care.

The report looked at a sample of cases from the time, and details how allegations of rape and sexual abuse by the young girls were not followed up and no further action taken by GMP or the council.

This was despite "clear evidence" teenage girls, aged 12 to 16, were being sexually abused "generally perpetrated by a group of older Asian men" including the force having their names, where they lived or worked and the flats above take-away shops where the abuse occurred.

Operation Augusta was set up in 2004. It was prompted by the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia in 2003, who died of a drugs overdose five days after being forcibly injected with heroin by her 50-year-old abuser.

The investigation identified at least 57 victims and 97 potential suspects and a "compelling picture of the systemic exploitation of looked after children in the care system" was established by detectives.

The report states that senior officers moved resources off Operation Augusta, and it was closed in 2005.

The force has been unable to produce the minutes of both meetings where this decision was communicated to Manchester City Council, the report says.

It also says that two months before her death, Victoria alerted her social worker and substance misuse worker that an older man was injecting her with heroin.

The report reads: “In summary, in the two years before her death, while in the care of Manchester City Council, Victoria Agoglia was repeatedly threatened, assaulted, returned to her residential unit intoxicated and in distress, gave information that she was involved in sexual exploitation, alleged rape and sexual assault requiring medical attention, and had several pregnancy scares. While we found evidence of multi-agency meetings, not one of these occasions resulted in a Section 47 child protection investigation to protect Victoria from significant harm.”

Between February and September 2002, Victoria was reported missing 136 times, and on 16 occasions resident staff were concerned for her safety.

The report states that Victoria was labelled by her social workers as a prostitute, and the coroners' report stated that she had a tendency to receive drugs in exchange for "sexual favours".

The report states that, to this day, no investigation has taken place into the sexual exploitation of Victoria Agoglia and calls on the mayor, force and council to consider 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".

A Major Incident Team has been opened by GMP, which encompasses both Victoria Agoglia’s case and those involved in Operation Augusta.

Assistant Chief Constable Mabs Hussain, Head of Specialist Crime for Greater Manchester Police said that this “dedicated” multi-agency team has already carried out a “significant amount of disruption actions”, as well as numerous safeguarding visits.

GMP has denied that sensitivities around the ethnic origin of the accused involved in the case had influenced its actions when Operation Augusta was ongoing.

GMP had at that time recently dealt with an unrelated case involving Kurdish people in the south Manchester area that had created community tensions and Operation Augusta was to examine accusations against another minority group.

However, a Detective Superintendent was emphatic that any concerns about creating further community tensions did not influence any of his investigative decisions, but the impact "clearly had to be considered" by senior officers in the gold command group.

Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, said: “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.”

ACC Hussain 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.

“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."

Maggie Oliver, a former GMP detective turned whistleblower who worked on Operation Augusta, said that she felt "vindicated" by the report, and that those responsible for the neglect should face charges of gross misconduct. 

Joanne Roney OBE, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, said:

“This report makes for painful reading. We recognise that some of the social work practice and management oversight around 15 years ago fell far below the high standards we now expect. We are deeply sorry that not enough was done to protect our children at the time.

“While we cannot change the past we have learned from it and will continue to do so to ensure that no stone is left unturned in tackling this abhorrent crime. 

“The report concerns a period when, as in many other towns and cities, child sexual exploitation was an emerging issue all too often viewed through a lens of misunderstanding wherever it occured. 

She urged anyone affected by this report to come forward to the police, and said they will be believed and supported.

The Association of Directors of Children’s Services told Police Oracle that they had not yet read the report so could not provide a comment. 

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