Dozens of teenage girls suspected of being groomed and abused in Manchester by gangs of men from Asian backgrounds were failed because police feared upsetting race relations, a new probe has suggested.
Victims repeatedly alerted officers about sexual assaults, giving names and addresses of those involved, but, in almost all cases, no action was taken.
Now, a bombshell report suggests Greater Manchester Police and the city council shelved an investigation into what was happening at least partially because of the “many sensitive community issues” they felt faced with.
“Concerns were expressed about the risk of proactive tactics or the incitement of racial hatred,” the 145-page independent review states.
And it adds: “The authorities knew that many [victims] were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from the perpetrators. This is a depressingly familiar picture and has been seen in many other towns and cities across the country.”
The verdict forms part of the probe – carried out by childcare expert Malcolm Newsam and former Cambridgeshire Police detective Gary Ridgway – into how sexual child exploitation was dealt with in the city in the early and mid-2000s.
It centres on Operation Augusta, which was set up in 2004 after the death of Victoria Agoglia, 15, a girl who reported being raped but who died from a suspected overdose soon after she alerted authorities to the abuse.
Augusta subsequently identified at least 57 victims – mainly white girls aged from 12 to 16 – and some 97 potential suspects involved in grooming across the region.
But senior officers at GMP under-resourced the investigation before closing it down completely with the backing of Manchester City Council. Only three people were convicted of related crimes at court.
The force had, at that time, just finished dealing with unrelated cases involving the Kurdish community that had created severe tensions and officers were keen not to be seen targeting another minority group, it is suggested.
But in closing the investigation, the report states, “very few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice and neither were their activities disrupted”.
It details a “sample” of case studies from the period in which allegations of rape and sexual assault had been made by teenage girls.
For each one, the report – commissioned by mayor Andy Burnham in 2017 – concludes with the same sentence: “We cannot offer any assurance that this was appropriately addressed by either GMP or Manchester City Council.”
This was despite “clear evidence” police had the names, addresses and even places of work of men suspected of carrying out the abuse.
One suspect vehicle uncovered in the initial investigation was linked to a GMP officer, who was later dismissed, the report said. Some suspects even visited council-run children’s homes, bringing alcohol and cannabis, with the apparent knowledge of council staff.
The report finishes by calling on the police 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”.
Responding to the report’s verdict, assistant chief constable Mabs Hussain, the head of specialist crime for GMP, said: “Children should be able to expect those responsible for their care will do all they can to keep them safe and I want to apologise to all those vulnerable children who were let down. I can only imagine the pain and distress they must have gone through.”
He added that a major incident room had now been set up and detectives would be reinvestigating all allegations and that lines of inquiry were already being pursued in a number of the cases.
Joanne Roney, the 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.”