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Rochdale grooming timeline: How dozens of vulnerable girls were left ‘at the mercy’ of criminal gangs

Despite repeat warnings since 2004, police and authorities failed to act until 2010

Holly Evans
Tuesday 16 January 2024 19:52 GMT
Greater Manchester Police failed to properly investigate Rochdale’s grooming gangs
Greater Manchester Police failed to properly investigate Rochdale’s grooming gangs ( Alamy/PA)

Girls were “left at the mercy” of paedophile grooming gangs for years in Rochdale because of failings by senior police and council bosses, with countless warnings ignored and dismissed, a report found this week.

The review, published on Monday, covers 2004 to 2013 and found that Greater Manchester Police failed to properly investigate a widespread criminal gang who were trafficking and sexually exploiting vulnerable young children.

Despite a healthcare worker alerting the police and local authorities to “patterns of sexual abuse” in 2007, children’s unwillingness to make a formal complaint was repeatedly used as an excuse for not investigating.

While the ring-leaders, a group of Asian men, were described as “prolific criminals” by the police, they were allowed to continue their abuse, causing one whistleblower detective to resign in disgust.

Former detective Maggie Oliver resigned from GMP and became a whistleblower (PA Archive)

Another police investigation into two takeaway shops in Rochdale, involving 30 adult male suspects, was also aborted prematurely because police bosses failed to resource it and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) deemed the main child victim an unreliable witness.

In the damning 173-page review, 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.”

Here is a timeline outlining how the Rochdale grooming scandal broke headlines across the UK, and why its repercussions are still being felt a decade later:


Child sexual exploitation and grooming are recognised to have begun in the Rochdale area, with mainly white girls from poor backgrounds targeted.

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.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham described the results as ‘distressing’ (Richard McCarthy/PA Wire)


Health worker Sara Rowbotham and her team alerted GMP and Rochdale Council about a gang of men of Pakistani and Afghan heritage engaged in child sexual exploitation.

The police and local authorities “chose not to progress any investigation into these men”, according to the review. Between 2003 and 2014, Ms Rowbatham made 180 attempts to alert police and social services.


A girl who was arrested on suspicion of damaging a takeaway reported that she had been raped by its staff, with an investigation identifying widespread child sexual exploitation by at least 30 adults. The CPS decided against prosecuting two men, and the investigation was halted.

December 2009

A second victim made complaints of a similar nature at the same two takeaways, but insufficient efforts were made to investigate, the report said.

Spring 2010

Police finally act on sexual grooming in Rochdale by launching Operation Span and make a number of arrests.

21 February 2012

Ringleaders Shabir Ahmed, Qari Abdul Rauf, Abdul Aziz and Adil Khan are among nine men who go on trial, denying a range of offences involving grooming, sexual abuse and trafficking of vulnerable teenage girls.

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.

Several members of the paedophile gang have been convicted and jailed

GMP and Rochdale Council had presented the court convictions as having “resolved” grooming in the town, but in reality it had “only scraped the surface”, the report said.

Former GMP detective Maggie Oliver resigns from the force after being dismissed by her bosses as an “emotional woman” when she tried to get action on grooming.

Ms Oliver, who now runs a charity supporting adult survivors of child abuse, has now been praised alongside whistleblower Sara Rowbotham, co-ordinator of the Crisis Intervention Team, as being “lone voices” in the damning report, which said young girls were “left at the mercy” of paedophile grooming gangs for years.

9 May 2012

All nine are convicted. Ahmed is jailed for 22 years, Aziz, nine years, Khan, eight years and Rauf six years. Both the Crown Prosecution Service and GMP apologised for their failures after the conviction.

July 2015

Home secretary Theresa May notifies each of the four with dual UK/Pakistan nationality that she intends to make an order to deprive each of UK citizenship.

May 2017

The televised drama Three Girls is followed by a harrowing documentary ‘The Betrayed Girls’, both of which are broadcast on the BBC. The newly elected mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, commissions an independent assurance review into how GMP and other agencies responded to child sexual exploitation.

Malcolm Newsam during a press conference for the publication of the review into child sexual exploitation in Rochdale (Richard McCarthy/PA Wire)

15 January 2024

The highly critical review is published, which lists several “deplorable” failings and identifies at least 96 individuals who could pose a risk to children, many of whom are yet to be prosecuted.

The findings include police secretly taking the aborted foetus of a 13-year-old grooming victim in order to do a DNA test without her consent, and taking no action in the case of a 15-year-old girl who gave birth to the child of her “pimp”.

Mr Burnahm said it gave a “detailed and distressing” account of how many young people were failed and added: “That said, it fulfils the purpose of why I set up this review in the first place.

“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.

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