Victims retraumatised by system
Whistleblower Oliver calls for victim support
Whistleblower Oliver calls for victim support
An independent review into historic child sexual exploitation in Oldham has found there were “serious failings” by Greater Manchester Police and Oldham Council.
The review into safeguarding practices in Oldham, published last week, was commissioned by Oldham Council in November 2019, and undertaken by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway.
Both men had worked on the assurance review of Operation Augusta, published in 2020, that publicly acknowledged the victims of a paedophile gang in Greater Manchester had been let down by the police and local authorities.
The Oldham review found no evidence to suggest Oldham Council sought to cover up the existence of child sexual exploitation, nor that there was widespread child sexual exploitation in residential settings, shisha bars or in the local taxi trade, although it highlighted concerns that these settings could leave children exposed to abuse.
However, the review discovered there were “serious failings” in the handling of some cases “because child protection procedures had not been properly followed” by the agencies that were meant to protect them.
It meant missed opportunities to prevent abuse dating back to 2005.
This includes offences committed by then council welfare officer Shabir Ahmed, the ringleader of a grooming gang who is serving a 22-year jail sentence for multiple violations, including 30 child rape charges.
The review referenced one case in particular, which involved a victim referred to as “Sophie”. She was subjected to “profound sexual exploitation” at the age of 12, but her pleas for help in 2006 went ignored.
The review team believes Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police fell far short of what was required to protect Sophie, and that “both agencies were more concerned about covering up their failures than acknowledging the harm that had been done to a vulnerable young person”.
“Sadly, I’m not at all surprised by the findings,” said Maggie Oliver, the former detective turned whistle-blower who resigned from the GMP in 2012 to expose the repeated failings by the police and authorities in the Rochdale grooming scandal. “Appalled, yet again, but not at all surprised.
“I could easily cut and paste this report and just say it was about Rochdale, or Rotherham, or Cumbria, or Huddersfield, or Humberside – the list goes on. Each report tells me what I already know, and it’s scandalous.”
Last week also brought a report from the Independent Office for Police Conduct on South Yorkshire Police’s responses to allegations of child sexual abuse and exploitation between 1997 and 2013.
The report acknowledged the “significant changes” made since then to improve the way the force deals with such offending but found “significant failures” by the force, which was “not ready at that time to deal with the nature and scale of the problem in Rotherham”.
The watchdog investigated the conduct of 47 officers. Eight were found to have a case to answer for misconduct and six had a case to answer for gross misconduct. But it added: “In many cases, officers had retired and, due to legislation in place at the time, could not face disciplinary proceedings.”
In 2019, Oliver set up the Maggie Oliver Foundation to support victims of abuse and provide legal advocacy.
“My team and I are contacted by desperate victims and survivors every single day, traumatised by their sexual abuse and then again by a system that they thought was there to protect them,” said Oliver.
“We know this is not a historic issue, in relation to the organised gangs of predators raping and exploiting young girls, or the police’s shameful lack of action in properly investigating these horrific crimes, or in the often paltry and inadequate charging decisions made by a Crown Prosecution Service unfit for purpose.”
Since the Oldham review’s publication, both the council and Greater Manchester Police have apologised for their failings, and say their approach in tackling child sexual exploitation has improved in recent years, but Oliver asserts there is a long way to go.
“We have been working tirelessly with GMP since the end of last year to try to improve areas like officers’ attitudes to victims who might present as ‘difficult’ due to their trauma, communication with victims and victim care,” she said.
“Whilst we may be hearing the right words from those at the top, we are not seeing this translated into action quickly enough. Since January alone, we have referred 33 very serious cases through to senior officers where we have significant concerns about the way the investigation is being handled as well as serious safeguarding concerns, and so far, only two have been resolved in a satisfactory way.
“We appreciate it takes time to reverse attitudes that are so entrenched, but we need to see faster action and serious consequences for those officers not prioritising victims, whatever their background, rank or presentation.”
Oliver is keen to see the investigation of complaints taken away from internal professional standards boards (PSBs) and given to an outside agency.
“The role of PSBs, in my now vast experience, is almost always to cover up and protect the organisation rather than impartially investigate the complaint, and I believe they are unfit for purpose. That must change and we must see more honesty and transparency, and less defensiveness,” she said.
“Of course, we want to see more of these paedophiles put behind bars for a long time but unfortunately that bit is totally out of our control. What we can do is make sure survivors feel heard, cared for and supported.
“Just by being listened to and believed, a huge burden is lifted from the shoulders of many survivors who have tried countless avenues to seek this support, often without success until they find us.”