Rochdale abuse scandal: Victims likely to sue

 

Victims of a child sex ring may take legal action against the authorities for failing to protect them after a damning report laid bare the extent of their failings.

Social workers, police and prosecutors "missed opportunities" to stop a child exploitation ring abusing young girls, a report into the scandal revealed today.

"Deficiencies" in the way children's social care responded to the victims' needs in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, were caused by "patchy" training of frontline staff, the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board (RBSCB) said in its 29-page report into child sexual exploitation (CSE).

The review comes four months after nine Asian men were convicted of the systematic grooming and sexual abuse of white girls in Heywood and Rochdale.

The trial resulted in a national debate over the role of gangs of largely Asian men in grooming white girls.

The picture which emerges from the report is one of vulnerable young girls, some as young as 10, who were being targeted for sexual abuse, being written off by those in authority who believed the girls were "making their own choices" and "engaging in consensual sexual activity".

In reality, girls were being raped and often violently beaten.

The judge who sentenced the nine men said they treated their victims "as though they were worthless and beyond any respect".

Richard Scorer, a solicitor for some of the abused girls, said it was "very likely" they would be taking legal action against the authorities for failing to protect them.

Mr Scorer told ITV's Daybreak programme the report was "very, very damning", and highlighted "a whole catalogue of failings, mainly by Rochdale social services".

He said: "I think based on the evidence in this report it is very likely that we will be going forward with legal action.

"It is fairly unusual for social services to be sued.

"It does happen but it is fairly unusual."

Asked whether the girls have been able to rebuild their lives and come to terms with what happened to them, Mr Scorer said: "Of course they are deeply traumatised and distressed by these events, which have lasted over many years.

"But they want to have the opportunity to rebuild their lives, the means, the wherewithal to do that, and that of course is part of the reason for bringing this case.

"What they also want to see is some cultural change in social services and hopefully the report is the first stage of that, but they want to press home that point and the legal action is part of achieving that."

Rochdale Council said it had used the review's findings to implement a catalogue of changes and improvements.

The report looked at how agencies including the council, police, NHS and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) worked between 2007 and 2012 to safeguard children and young people who were at risk of sexual exploitation.

The report, which specifically followed the treatment of one 15-year-old victim, said: "While some organisations were consistently supportive in their response, overall child welfare organisations missed opportunities to provide a comprehensive, co-ordinated and timely response and, in addition, the criminal justice system missed opportunities to bring the perpetrators to justice."

The report also said: "Activity to disrupt alleged offenders was developing on the ground but this was not always followed through at a more senior level.

"The early investigations of crimes and the prosecution of alleged offenders were flawed."

RBSCB chairwoman Lynne Jones said: "We have responded to this review and improvements have been implemented.

"I believe organisations are working better together, sharing information to ensure children are protected and that perpetrators of these crimes are prosecuted."

She added: "Raising awareness so that young people are better equipped to understand what is happening to them or their friends has been delivered to 10,000 young people.

"Staff training has ensured that professionals are now more aware and able to respond appropriately.

"We are also seeing stronger joint working on police operations to bring people to justice."

The gang of nine men received jail sentences of between four and 19 years in May.

The offences happened in and around Rochdale in 2008 and 2009.

The five girls - aged between 13 and 15 - were given alcohol, food and money in return for sex but there were times when violence was used.

Police said the victims were from "chaotic", "council estate" backgrounds and as many as 50 girls could have been victims of the gang.

A chance to stop the gang was missed in 2008 and both the police and the CPS were forced to apologise for their failings.

The review found:

:: Specific training for frontline practitioners in the borough was patchy and lessons were absorbed inconsistently;

:: There were deficiencies in the way that children's social care responded to the victims' needs;

:: In children's social care, the focus was on younger children at risk of abuse from family and household members, rather than on vulnerable adolescents;

:: Agencies which referred potential victims were said to be "frustrated" that they were not "being adequately assessed and dealt with by the local authority", and staff failed to escalate their concerns successfully;

:: Agencies and organisations in Rochdale made faltering early progress in developing a satisfactory framework for managing allegations of child sexual exploitation;

:: The need for a specialist resource was identified in 2008, but its development was inadequately co-ordinated and supported;

:: There was a poor response by children's social care to cases where children were at risk of sexual exploitation.

The report concludes: "Although, between 2009 and February 2012, some improvements had been consolidated, the review acknowledges there were missed opportunities, over the last five years, to safeguard children and young people who have been affected by sexual exploitation."

The first victim, who was 15 when the abuse began, told the police what had been happening to her in August 2008.

She specifically spoke of her abuse at the hands of two members of the gang.

Her complaint was not taken seriously and she carried on being abused by the men until December 2008 when she fell pregnant and moved away.

Rochdale Council said the recommendations in the review have led to improvements being implemented which include:

:: More than 10,000 staff in agencies in the borough have received briefings in respect of recognition and response to sexual exploitation;

:: More than 1,500 staff have had face-to-face training with plans to reach the whole workforce by the end of this year;

Jim Taylor, chief executive of Rochdale Borough Council, said: "This review highlights that all agencies did not work together adequately and it is very clear that, in the past, council services missed opportunities to offer assistance. I deeply regret this."

Speaking earlier this month, Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk said senior managers at the council who ignored reports of the abuse are still in position and said "heads should roll".

Asked whether people could lose their jobs over the council's failures, Mr Taylor said today: "I think that an investigation that I have instigated will actually bring out these particular facts.

"I have started an internal review which was commissioned some time ago, an independent review which will report next month. But I can confirm that there are investigations around some of the issues that have been raised in the report today."

Pressed about whether senior managers could lose their jobs, he said: "I need to follow our procedures, which I am going to do. Clearly, you would not expect me to comment at this time about those issues."

Asked whether the council had been tiptoeing around the issues of ethnicity for fear of being labelled racist, Mr Taylor said: "In terms of the referrals to children's social care, I don't think that was the case.

"Referrals will come in to children's social care and they will deal with them... But clearly, as the report states, the young people were not adequately supported in their concerns."

The council's own review of internal processes and procedures will be published next month.

A report by the IPCC is yet to be published and a full Serious Case Review is due for publication in 2013.

Mr Danczuk said: "What this report shows is that young girls' cries for help were systematically ignored and I'm in no doubt that the poor response by council services would have emboldened the criminal to make them think they could carry on abusing with impunity."

Keith Vaz, the Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee, said he was "deeply concerned" by the report's findings.

"As part of its ongoing inquiry into grooming, the committee will be recalling the chief executive of Rochdale Council to explain why social services missed opportunities to stop the exploitation of vulnerable girls, what is being done to ensure agencies are now working together to keep them safe and how individuals responsible for the failings will be held to account," he said.

Deputy children's commissioner Sue Berelowitz said: "We are far from surprised at the revelations of horrific acts of child sexual exploitation in today's report from the Rochdale borough safeguarding children board.

"In our two-year inquiry into child sexual exploitation, we are continuing to uncover what is happening to far too many vulnerable children and young people up and down the country.

"We reiterate the recommendation made to the Secretary of State for Education in our July report on the sexual exploitation of children that calling children prostitutes is completely unacceptable and is stopping professionals from seeing these children as victims who require protection. Children cannot consent to their own abuse.

"An interim report from the children's commissioner's inquiry will be published in November where, for the first time, we will bring a national perspective to these appalling acts against children.

"Most importantly, the interim report will give professionals solid evidence of the warning signs that should alert them that a child is at risk of being sexually exploited. Acting on these warning signs is imperative.

"It is critical that statutory agencies listen to children when they tell people that they are being abused and that these allegations are taken extremely seriously. They have an absolute responsibility in law to protect children."

PA

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