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Greater Manchester Police warn ‘reckoning is coming’ to Rochdale abusers in pledge to failed victims

It comes as a lengthy review reveals multiple failed investigations by Greater Manchester Police into hundreds of youngsters identified as potential victims of abuse in Rochdale

Maryam Zakir-Hussain
Monday 15 January 2024 17:18 GMT
Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable issues grooming gang apology: 'We let victims down'

Rochdale abusers who continue to walk free have been warned “a reckoning is coming” as Greater Manchester Police (GMP) vowed to “bring offenders to justice”.

It comes as a damning report released on Monday identified at least 96 men who were “potentially engaged in the exploitation of children”.

The 173-page review looked into how GMP and Rochdale Council did not respond to large-scale child sexual exploitation by gangs of mainly Asian men against mostly white girls from poor backgrounds from 2004 to 2013.

Chief Constable Stephen Watson of Greater Manchester Police sent a message to those men involved in the gangs who had not yet been detained (Sky News )

The report was commissioned by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham following allegations by whistleblowers Sara Rowbotham and Maggie Oliver in a BBC TV documentary The Betrayed Girls, which aired in 2017.

Among its findings, it revealed how an investigation into a takeaway shop involving 30 adult male suspects was prematurely aborted over failings, while a multi-agency team reported the widescale abuse of children by up to 60 men.

Nine men were convicted following the first large-scale investigation - Operation Span - into grooming by GMP in 2010. Since then, the force said there had been 32 convictions for child sex grooming.

However, the report revealed at least 96 individuals who potentially pose a risk to children had been identified - although some could be duplicate names.

After apologising for the failures of the police to protect the “vulnerable from the cruel and predatory,” Chief Constable Stephen Watson of Greater Manchester Police sent a message to those men involved in the gangs who had not yet been detained.

He told a press conference on Monday: “I know that some who might have thought they got away with these dreadful crimes now fear that a reckoning is coming.

“My message to these people is that you are right to be fearful and you might be the next person we arrest. No matter the passage, we will continue to develop the evidence to put you away. This is the least we can do for those who we have let down.”

Former detective Maggie Oliver was one of the whistleblowers whose allegations helped form a BBC documentary, The Betrayed Girls (PA)

According to the report, a number of men remained free because three major police operations after Operation Span were “consistently under-resourced in providing the necessary support to enable victims to disclose their abuse and for them to remain engaged with the investigation”.

In the press conference, Mr Watson did detail the arrests that have been made since Operation Span when nine men were convicted in May 2012, including Abdul Rauf, Hamid Safi, Mohammed Sajid, Abdul Aziz, Abdul Qayyum, Adil Khan, Mohammed Amin and Kabeer Hassan, who were found guilty of conspiracy and rape.

He said: “In Rochdale alone, a further 135 arrests have been made, 432 charges have been laid and 32 convictions obtained which have resulted in 355 years imprisonment for offenders who might have they thought that they had escaped justice.

“Last year, Operation Lytton resulted in a conviction of a further 5 offenders for a further 22 offences and these men were sentenced to 71 and a half years of imprisonment.

“As of today, we have another 34 individuals who are currently charged and are due to stand trail during this year and next. In addition to Operation Lytton which continues, there are currently a further seven live child sex exploitation investigations taking place in Rochdale.”

Undated handout composite photo issued by Greater Manchester Police of (top row left to right) Abdul Rauf, Hamid Safi, Mohammed Sajid and Abdul Aziz; (Bottom row left to right) Abdul Qayyum, Adil Khan, Mohammed Amin and Kabeer Hassan who were found guilty of conspiracy and rape. (PA Media)

The report 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 police not investigating.

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.

One example is when a police investigation into two takeaway shops in Rochdale, involving 30 adult male suspects, was aborted prematurely because 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.

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”.

Mr Watson said: “One of the primary responsibilities of the police is to protect the vulnerable from the cruel and predatory, and in this regard, we failed you.

“It remains, of course, a source of profound regret that we cannot turn back the clock,” adding: “We remain determined to do all that we can to bring offenders to justice.”

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