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Failure to protect but no cover up of CSE in Oldham report finds

An Independent Assurance Review, published today, has found that GMP and Oldham council should apologise for their failings, but that there was no cover up of CSE

The report looked into the alleged grooming of children in council homes, shisha bars and by taxi drivers in the town and concluded, in spite of allegations, there was no evidence of a cover up or “widespread” child sex abuse in those settings.

Written by child care expert, Malcolm Newsam and former Cambridgeshire Detective Superintendent, Gary Ridgeway, the report identified “legitimate concerns” of behalf of the police and the council regarding the far right capitalising on the fact that the child grooming was predominantly at the hands of Pakistani men. However, they found that this did not cause the authorities to shy away from tackling it.

The report also said that specialist CSE services were “strategically ahead” of those offered by other local authorities and demonstrates a “high quality” response which was “mirrored by GMP”.

The problem was that these approaches did not always translate into the right level of safeguarding.

The report’s own review of 10 cases found a failure to initiate multi-agency protection procedures. Oldham council and GMP have agreed to review the cases to see if further action can be taken against the exploiters.

One such case identified was of a 12 year old girl “Sophie” abused after “significant opportunities missed” to protect her.

She went to Oldham police station to report being raped by an Asian man in October 2006.

She was told to come back when she was “not drunk” and was instead taken from the police station in a car and she was then raped in the vehicle, then taken to a house and raped multiple times by five different men.

The report also details how Shabir Ahmed, the ring-leader of a notorious grooming gang in Rochdale, was employed by Oldham Council as a welfare rights officer and seconded to the Oldham Pakistani Community Centre.

Despite multiple concerns being raised about him and his arrest for the sexual assault of children, police failed to tell his employers.

“If this had happened, it may have potentially avoided the tragic abuse of other children…” the report states, citing “serious multiple failures” by both GMP and the local authority.

Ahmed is now serving a 22 year jail sentence.

One key area highlighted in the report was the specialist Messenger team which had been established to target child sex offenders. Between September 2009 and July 2010, there were 30 arrests, 30 abduction notices and 164 GMP family support investigations resulting from the Op Messenger partnership. Funding however was reduced in 2010.

The report found that the “intelligence links between […] disruption operations and the Messenger team were insufficiently robust.”

This has previously been acknowledged by the force within their own internal review at the time - remarking that the team was insufficiently resourced.

Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, said: “This report continues the process of shining a spotlight on past failures in Greater Manchester.

“There were serious failings and victims were let down, particularly Sophie.

“Whilst there was no evidence of a cover-up, we must not flinch from acknowledging shortcomings.”

A criminal investigation has been reopened in Manchester and police watchdogs called in to investigate former senior GMP officers following the grooming report on the city published in January 2020. Both probes are still ongoing.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson said: “The safeguarding arrangements that were in place in GMP during the time period covered by the review were not good enough to protect children from sexual abuse.

“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 am sorry for the hurt and on-going trauma they have suffered because of what happened to them.

“I offer no excuses but can give assurances that our approach to tackling child exploitation has vastly improved and is now a policing priority”. 

The report is available here.

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