Oldham CSE Report: Damning review finds failures by police and social services over child sexual exploitation
Reporter: Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter
Date published: 20 June 2022
Mayor Burnham at this morning's press conference
A 12-year-old girl who was raped multiple times by different men was failed by Oldham authorities and police missed opportunities to bring her abusers to justice, a damning report has concluded.
Almost three years after being commissioned, a review into allegations of historic child sexual exploitation has found that children in Oldham were being exploited and let down by services which tried and failed to protect them.
Among its damning findings, the review has uncovered that:
The Rochdale grooming gang leader Shabir Ahmed worked as a welfare officer in Oldham unchecked for a year despite being accused of serious child sexual abuse.
Girls being drugged and violently raped were said by social workers to be ‘putting themselves at risk’.
Oldham council gave taxi driver licences to men convicted or accused of serious sexual offences involving women and children.
Shisha bars were known to be a threat – but vulnerable children as young as 13 still visited them for years.
In an individual case, the review found that Sophie – not her real name – fell into the hands of predators after trying to report a sexual assault at Oldham police station, which led to a further 24 hours of torment in which she was raped repeatedly.
The review, commissioned by Oldham council in 2019 and written by experts Malcolm Newsam and Gary Ridgway, looked at the way authorities have dealt with child sexual exploitation between 2011 and 2014, and one specific case dating back to 2005.
It was launched on the back of allegations made on social media which have gained a large following and have begun to exert significant influence within Oldham politics – contributing to the dethroning of two council leaders in just two years.
However the report states that it has found no evidence of a widespread cover-up of sexual exploitation in the borough, and between the years 2011 to 2014 services endeavoured to prevent at risk young people from being taken advantage of.
But the authors say that while strategies were good on paper, they frequently did not translate into protecting children on the ground from abuse.
The ‘Messenger’ service, which was set up in 2006, aimed to safeguard children against sexual exploitation, and involved Oldham council, social workers, specialists from the charity Barnardo’s, and Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
After being launched Operation Messenger identified scores of children, some as young as 12 years old, who were being groomed in the borough
A risk register stated that the possible harm to children was so high the ‘worst-case’ risk was that a ‘young person could be killed’.
However, the review finds that ‘commendable strategic approaches did not always translate into the appropriate level of safeguarding for young people at risk of child sexual exploitation’.
A GMP detective admitted that the Messenger service was a ‘small unit and didn’t have the capacity to deal with all these types of vulnerable girls’.
The review team have identified a ‘structural flaw’ in the design of the Messenger service in which only one qualified social worker acted as a conduit between the specialist team and frontline social workers.
These care workers’ assessments were not always up to scratch, and managers did not give enough oversight or direction, the review has found.
This was backed up by investigations into ten complex cases of young vulnerable people, which found that none were protected from child sexual exploitation.
Plans put in place by professionals were more devoted to monitoring abuse than putting in place an ‘assertive plan’ to prevent and disrupt it.
Instead social workers often said that girls were not taking responsibility for protecting themselves, and phrases such as ‘putting herself at risk’ were regularly used.
“This was despite the evidence that the children were being drugged or made senseless on vodka then subjected to violent rapes, often by several men in succession, and to serious physical assaults, coercion and threats,” the review states.
“The quality of casework was generally very poor and characterised by a failure to appropriately initiate multi-agency child protection procedures when these children were known to be at risk of significant harm.”
There was an ‘over-reliance’ on the need for victims to cooperate with police by pressing charges, despite the often coercive and threatening relationships with their abusers, and even in the cases where there were witnesses and forensic evidence.
Police had a ‘significant’ amount of information on some of the men who were grooming and abusing children, but despite this it appeared that they could exploit their victims with ‘relative impunity due to the failure to disrupt and target their activities’.
Following these findings, Oldham council and GMP have agreed to review these cases and consider whether further action can be taken against the men who abused these children.
At the heart of the report is the horrific case of Sophie, a young girl living in Oldham who was both systematically abused and systemically failed.
Her case, which dates back to 2005, was included in the review after she wrote an open letter to-then council leader Sean Fielding asking for it to be included, following years of denials from authorities that mistakes had been made.
However in their findings, the review’s authors are utterly scathing in their assessment of the response of both Greater Manchester Police and local social services in how they treated Sophie – and let her abusers walk free.
The team have recommended that both GMP and Oldham council ‘publicly acknowledge the serious failures and apologise to Sophie.’
There were ‘at least’ two occasions when safeguarding procedures should have been begun, which may have protected Sophie from the ‘predatory males who ended up abusing her’ aged just 12 years old, the report states.
One man, Paul Waites – named only as ‘Offender E’ within the report – groomed her using internet chat rooms, which led to him sexually assaulting and raping in the summer of 2006.
Despite numerous admissions by Sophie to social workers that she was in contact with an older man, who she believed to be 18 or 19, and that he was her ‘boyfriend’, evidence that he was a risk to her was not followed up.
Waites was in fact in his early thirties at the time, and a serial paedophile. He was jailed in 2009 for possessing indecent images of children and in 2015 was convicted of the rape of Sophie and sentenced to 11 years in prison.
In 2020 the former teacher was handed a life sentence for sexually abusing another girl in 2005.
The review team has concluded that a ‘competent’ review of Sophie’s file in 2006 would have revealed the ‘numerous warning signs’, and also that the council and Greater Manchester Police had ‘failed to follow their own procedures in respect of protecting Sophie from the risk of serious harm’.
“In our opinion there was sufficient information available to the officers investigating the series of rapes against Sophie in October 2006 to identify Offender E as a potential threat to Sophie,” Newsam and Ridgway write.
“We regard this as a missed opportunity. If further action had been taken it could in all probability have led to the earlier apprehension and conviction of Offender E.”
At the same time as Sophie was being groomed by Waites, she was subjected to a horrific series of assaults by several strangers within a 24 hour period.
After attending Oldham police station to report a sexual assault in a churchyard, she was told by the desk officer to come back with an adult when she ‘was not drunk’ and effectively placed in the hands of more predators who were also leaving the station.
This led to her being sexually assaulted in a car, then abandoned in the borough and raped in the house of man, Sarwar Ali, whom she had asked for directions.
Finally she was picked up by a man who was posing as a taxi driver, named Shakil Chowdhury, who had promised to help her.
Instead he took her to another property on Attock Close where she was subjected to a terrifying and sustained series of rapes by him and four other men.
Of these numerous assailants, only Chowdhury and Ali were ever arrested. Chowdhury was jailed in 2007 for six years after pleading guilty to six counts of rape.
The review team found that there were ‘several failures’ in the investigation of the multiple rapes reported by Sophie.
They say they have seen ‘no evidence’ to provide assurance that appropriate enquiries were conducted into the first sexual assault and the rapes by the men she met at the police station.
Newsam and Ridgway state that if, when arriving at the police station, Sophie had received the ‘appropriate response required to protect her’ she would have been ‘spared the ordeal she was subsequently subjected to’.
During his trial Chowdhury named two other men involved in the rapes of Sophie as part of his mitigation, but these were not followed up by GMP at the time, the report states, and is branded ‘another serious failure’.
The review team said that Sophie was ‘shocked and dismayed’ that GMP had ‘not pursued these lines of investigation’ and had not shared the information with her ‘despite ten years of her seeking answers’.
Despite two different professional standards investigations by the force in 2013 and 2018, this was not picked up by either inquiry. Rather, the first investigation concluded that ‘no concerns were identified’ with the way police handled her case.
However an internal investigatory review by GMP in 2014 did find ‘serious weaknesses’ in the original investigation, which led to a major police operation called Operation Solent being launched.
Oldham council also missed opportunities to intervene with Sophie using child protection procedures, which could have led to more protective action being taken, the report concludes.
Although the rapes were reported to the local authority, there was no strategy put in place that would have ensured an ‘adequate protection plan’ for Sophie.
“There were significant opportunities missed by children’s social care to intervene and put in place appropriate arrangements to protect Sophie,” Newsam and Ridgway write.
“We believe that the interventions of both the council and Greater Manchester Police fell far short of what was required to protect Sophie at the time, and these failures have been compounded by the denials that have subsequently been issued to Sophie and feed a view that both agencies are more concerned about covering up their failures than acknowledging the harm had been done to a vulnerable young person.”
The notorious Rochdale grooming gang leader Shabir Ahmed, and his links to Oldham and the council are also investigated as part of the review, which has uncovered ‘serious failures’ in how authorities dealt with the predator.
Later sexual abuse by Ahmed could have been prevented if earlier ‘offending behaviour’ and the threat he posed to children had been properly addressed, the review concludes.
The report has found that there was a significant allegation of child sexual abuse made in 2005 against Ahmed.
This occurred three years before the later widespread grooming and gang rape in Rochdale, which also saw abused girls let down by police and social services.
Known as ‘Daddy’ by his victims, he was found guilty of two rapes, aiding and abetting rape, sexual assault and trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation and was sentenced to 19 years imprisonment.
In June 2012 he was found guilty of a further 30 rape charges and was jailed for an additional 22 years, adding three years to his overall prison term.
Ahmed had worked at Oldham council between 1988 and 2006, and was employed as a welfare rights officer seconded to the Oldham Pakistani Community Centre.
This role would have meant he would ‘potentially have had contact with a range of vulnerable adults and their children’.
The review team state they believe there were ‘serious failings in how both the council and Greater Manchester Police investigated concerns’ in respect of Ahmed while allegations of child sexual assault were being levelled at him during his employment as a welfare officer.
The full details of his case have not been made public due to concerns about jigsaw identification of his victims.
However a summary of the case included within the report finds that as early as 2005, GMP was notified of a serious allegation of child sexual abuse perpetrated by Ahmed.
The victim, now an adult, also alerted police that Ahmed had also potentially had contact with a young child who lived outside of Oldham.
A crime report was not submitted on the back of this information which GMP said was in line with its working practices at the time. However the review team says the National Crime Recording Standard in place at the time required a crime to be recorded.
GMP also failed to inform the local authority responsible for the child, and also did not notify Oldham council which was then Ahmed’s employer.
As a result of the disclosure that he potentially presented a serious risk to children, Newsam and Ridgway say a full assessment should have been undertaken to assess the risks he posed to any other children he may have come into contact with.
But instead ‘insufficient enquiries were made into whether his role gave him access to vulnerable adults and children’.
“If this had happened it may have potentially avoided the tragic abuse of other children,” the report states.
In February 2008, Ahmed was arrested for sexual assault on a child, and that July was also arrested on suspicion of abducting two other children.
However the review states that neither of the two children made a complaint, and consequently no crime was recorded and no further action taken.
When queried by the review team, ‘Oldham council was unable to find any record of being notified of these allegations by Greater Manchester Police’.
And there is no evidence that GMP had notified the council about the allegations, so that it could investigate the risks he may have posed to children he could have been involved with through his job.
Oldham council were also not involved in subsequent ‘strategy discussions’ between GMP and Rochdale council about Ahmed, and both the 2008 and 2005 allegations.
Even after Ahmed was charged with sexual assault at the end of September 2008, no action was taken by Oldham council to undertake a safeguarding assessment, or liaise with the police force.
He would not be jailed for his prolific sexual offending until 2012.
In 2011 he was charged with the rape of the child in 2005, and remanded in custody.
Oldham council was notified by the probation service, and ‘given the profound child sexual abuse, this should’ve been a further opportunity to initiate a full assessment of [Ahmed’s] circumstances but there is no evidence of this having occurred’.
GMP requested copies of files about Ahmed and his family, which informed Oldham council about the child that lived outside of the borough that could have potentially been put at risk.
This ‘significant information’ should have prompted the authority to begin a multi-agency strategy discussion to assess the threats presented to any other children. However the review states that the council ‘has never been able to locate any record to explain why this never occurred’.
The following year another young woman bravely revealed she had also been abused by Ahmed, and GMP notified Oldham council of the allegations.
The abuse occurred while he was employed as a welfare rights officer, but it is not known whether he had been involved with her family in a professional capacity.
However the report states that children’s social care ‘inexplicably closed the case within a few days without undertaking any assessment’.
The authority has been ‘unable to locate anything further on this child’ and the review finds there is no evidence of an assessment of her allegations or her vulnerability.
“The review team have been informed that the case was discontinued by Greater Manchester Police on the basis that there was ‘no realistic prospect of conviction’,” the report states.
“Neither Greater Manchester Police nor Oldham council was able to provide the review team with any assurance that the child’s allegations and vulnerability were appropriately dealt with.
“The review team conclude that there were serious multiple failures by both Greater Manchester Police and Oldham council to follow the procedures in place to investigate the threat [Ahmed] presented to children.
“If these procedures had been followed, his offending behaviour could have been addressed at an earlier stage and potentially the abuse of his subsequent victims may have been prevented.”
Girls as young as 13 who were known to be sexually exploited visited private shisha bars in Oldham for nearly three years, the review finds.
It has been revealed that although the council and police later sought to disrupt the activities of behind-closed-doors shisha bars, there were weaknesses in the approach to safeguard at-risk children.
The local authority and GMP were aware of the threats posed by shisha bars and cafes in relation to grooming and potential exploitation by the end of 2010.
Senior police officers stated at the time that derelict pubs in Oldham town centre were being bought and sublet to ‘Asian young men’ who ran them as private shisha venues.
“It was this pseudo business front but operating outside any sort of licensing structure and targeting and trying to entice young people to the premises which I was concerned about and targeted,” one chief inspector wrote.
Patrols and intelligence reports had linked the operation of these establishments with vulnerable young people – specifically young women who were known to be at risk of sexual exploitation.
Four girls involved with Operation Messenger were known to be frequenting ‘Cafe Mist’ shisha bar.
A raid of Cafe Mist in December 2010 by Oldham licensing officers and GMP found 25 young men and women aged between 16 and 25 in the venue, along with a ‘strong smell of cannabis’ and evidence that alcohol had been consumed.
There were ‘grave concerns’ a month later that four girls in their early teens – known to be vulnerable to sexual exploitation – were present, along with two young men linked to drug dealing.
The review has found that two of these children were still frequenting shisha bars 18 months later. And it has established that there were 18 children who were thought to be visiting these shisha bars who were at risk of being groomed and sexually exploited.
“There was mounting evidence throughout 2012 that shisha bars continued to present an opportunity for sexual exploitation,” the report states.
“Clearly shisha bars were a magnet for young people vulnerable to sexual exploitation, and it is also clear that children were being exploited on the premises.
“One child was seen having sex at a well-known shisha bar and also disclosed that she went to another shisha bar to ‘sleep with lads’.”
Other bars of concern in the borough at this time included, AYCE, Fusion and Kloudz.
Kloudz was raised by GMP as a threat as it had private rooms to rent upstairs and there were ‘serious concerns about the sexual activity going on in the rooms and the potential links to child sexual exploitation’.
It was reported that two vulnerable girls had spent the night at a shisha bar and had been having sex.
Police officers and council officials entered Kloudz after a PC saw a girl leaving the premises ‘upset and crying’.
They found two rooms occupied by Asian men in their early twenties, and also in the building another girl who was in possession of alcohol, and two other girls.
On the evening of the next day the same constable reported seeing a 17-year-old man dragging a girl into the back of the shisha bar.
He took hold of the man and the child was then found hiding inside the toilets. She revealed she had been in the premises a week earlier and police said that social services were informed.
However the council said a referral was not received from GMP and ‘despite the concerns expressed’, she continued to be unknown to social care.
GMP admitted this report had not been appropriately followed up and needed further enquiries – but these had not been completed by the time the review was published.
In another case, police visited Oasis Cafe and issued three fixed penalty notices following reports by a parent that her teenage daughter had been smoking shisha at the bar with older Asian men.
A 14-year-old child continued to visit shisha bars and numerous concerns were raised by charity Positive Steps about her, including that she was drinking half a litre of vodka every night with older people.
“Although numerous intelligence reports of Asian males and young girls visiting these premises were raised, the intelligence reports were not forwarded to the Messenger team as they were not known ‘Messenger subjects’,” the review states.
“We believe this is a key weakness in the Greater Manchester Police response to shisha bars at the time and a significant missed opportunity to quantify the scale of the threats presented to children.
“While officers in Greater Manchester Police were concerned about these threats, it is apparent to us that the response throughout 2011 and 2012 was having very little impact on the operation of shisha bars and the threat they presented to vulnerable young people,” the review finds.
Threats and reports of vulnerable and school-age girls visiting shisha bars continued until mid-2013, with girls known to the Messenger team visiting Leisure Lounge shisha bar.
“The risks around CSE (child sexual exploitation) are massive,” the chief inspector in the borough wrote in February of that year.
Efforts to disrupt activities at shisha bars were at times thwarted by the legal framework of the time – much to the frustration of some local councillors.
In an email to police in April 2013, ‘Councillor U’, wrote: “I can’t understand why we are struggling to gain entry when we’ve got all these concerns, surely police have powers to get in! Is there any learning from Bradford/Blackburn as these two LAs [local authorities] have had shisha bars for many years?”
This began the start of a coordinated campaign by authorities to close down these shisha venues and alert young people to their risks.
The review states that multi-agency visits of these premises were undertaken, and approval was sought to gather intelligence through a covert operation.
From 2011 to 2013 the council and police collaborated to ‘disrupt the shisha bar business model’ by deploying a range of operations, including fire safety and environmental health.
Schools were requested to notify parents that the bars and cafes were not as they pretended to be, and not safe. However the report finds that this information was not relayed.
By the end of 2013 most shisha bars had closed and a follow-up operation in 2014 did not highlight any ongoing concerns about the ones that remained.
The review finds that GMP and the council understood the threats presented by shisha bars and that they were ‘attempting to address these concerns’.
“We believe this model of disruption was advanced for the period and was not without impact,” the report states. “While robust action was taken to close some of the shisha bars, this was not always achievable given the legislation in place at the time.
“The council recognised these limitations and took a proactive role in seeking to amend legislation that was passing through Parliament at the time.”
However the report is clear that there had been a ‘weakness’ in the approach to safeguarding children visiting shisha bars, and intelligence was not always channelled to the right officers who had been charged with detecting and preventing child sexual exploitation.
The specialist Messenger team, which was set up to tackle grooming, largely did not participate in the disruption activities, and was not ‘sufficiently resourced’ during this time to undertake proactive investigations.
The review finds that a number of working Oldham taxi drivers had been accused of rape or sexual offences against children – but kept their licences.
Two drivers who were alleged to have assaulted girls should have had their licences revoked by the council, and several ‘known offenders’ had been granted or had their taxi licences renewed by councillors.
“The council’s licensing panel had previously approved several licences to individuals who had been convicted of serious sexual offences against children,” the report states.
However the authors say they have been provided with ‘no evidence’ that senior managers or councillors sought to cover up the potential exploitation of children by local taxi services.
They add that national guidance at the time was not ‘sufficiently robust’ to prevent the issuing of licences to people will sexual offence convictions, although it has now been strengthened.
Taxi drivers were recognised as a threat by those working with children at risk of sexual exploitation within the town hall – but the review finds that more could have been done to protect girls and women.
Concerns were raised internally in 2012 about a driver who had been accused of a sexual offence against a child, and whether he was a ‘fit and proper person’ to hold a licence.
Although the driver was acquitted, he had admitted in his evidence that he had known the girl – who was under the age of 16 – for several months before the alleged offence, having met her in an illegal shisha bar.
He had also admitted using his taxi for the ‘purpose of sexual activity’ with the alleged victim, which took place in a public car park.
Following the Rotherham scandal, in 2014 Oldham council reviewed all the cases where licence holders had been accused of sexual offences.
There were originally five drivers identified who had serious criminal convictions, but only one of these was taken to the licensing panel and had his licence revoked.
One of the remaining four went on to commit a sexual assault on a young female passenger in 2015. He had been convicted of an indecent assault on a woman in a shopping centre, and received a conditional discharge.
He was convicted in 2017 of the later assault, and the judge in the case queried why a licence had been granted given his previous conviction, which triggered a formal complaint to the council.
Following this the council’s chief executive Carolyn Wilkins ordered officers to undertake a review of all licensed drivers, which were around 1,300 people.
In January 2015 a review of licensed drivers took place involving those who had been convicted of a sexual offence or where intelligence was held on them.
The report listed nine drivers, where one had been convicted of offences against children.
Of these nine, six licences were ‘revoked or ended’.
One driver had been questioned by police in relation to two separate alleged sexual assaults, three years apart, on two young female passengers.
“Although the police took no further action, the legal advice to the panel was clear that it should make the judgement on the ‘balance of probabilities’,” the report states.
“It is our view that there were sufficient concerns presented to the panel in respect of these allegations for it to revoke [the driver’s] licence.”
There were also ‘concerning’ details of the offence by another driver. It was alleged that a victim was a customer who had been sexually assaulted in his taxi and subsequently raped.
The Crown Prosecution Service had taken no further action, but this was the only detail that was supplied to the licensing panel.
The current guidance followed by the council recommends:
Nobody with a sexually related conviction or convicted of an offence against children should hold a licence. This decision can also be made based on intelligence on the balance of probability.
These matters are delegated to the head of licensing to ensure swift action is taken to refuse such licences if an application is made.
They can also immediately suspend a licence if they are notified about an offence.
Oldham’s head of licensing John Garforth, who also chairs the Greater Manchester Licensing Network, sought to strengthen the quality of information and intelligence shared by the police with local councils.
He raised the matter formally with the-then chief constable of GMP, Ian Hopkins, in 2018 but did not get a response.
GMP has now confirmed it has commissioned a review of the content, application, and senior ownership of the force’s policies on disclosure around taxi drivers.
Unlike the Operation Augusta report, which exposed widespread failings within children’s homes in Manchester, the latest review finds there was no evidence of such endemic exploitation in Oldham.
But it concludes that some children in the care of Oldham council were still being abused.
Attempts to stop this abuse were in ‘many instances’ successful, however on other occasions attempts to intervene were ‘frustrated’, it states.
The report finds evidence that some children who had not been groomed before entering the care system were drawn into sexual exploitation through the encouragement of other residents.
A specialist children’s home for girls, Rivendell, was set up in 2007 with the aim of protecting vulnerable young people – many of whom had been groomed.
For a year it worked closely with the police and Messenger partnership, and staff worked night and day to try and prevent girls leaving to visit predators.
“Nonetheless it was evident that abusers continued to attempt to lure the children away,” the report states.
This would normally begin with a phone call, and then lead to men collecting girls in cars.
Staff said that the victims told them they were first approached by younger men who would become their ‘boyfriends’ to build trust, and then later introduced to older men who would exploit and abuse them.
A staff member told the review team that it was ‘all very organised’, adding: “It was organised CSE.
“It was groups who all knew each other, whether from taxi’s, takeaways, different groups of Albanians in their takeaways…they knew what Rivendell was and they would use their connections.”
After a year, funding for the extra support around Rivendell was reduced, which in turn saw the close links between the home and police begin to diminish. Staff say this made the task of protecting residents ‘more challenging’.
In 2010 it was agreed that the location of Rivendell was ‘not ideal’ and the presence of children, who were already being sexually exploited, could attract ‘unwanted attention from abusers’. Consequently the purpose of the home became more generic and it began accommodating children from across the borough.
In 2014 a former staff member alleged on social media that Pakistani men would drive round and wait for girls to come out of Rivendell, and that care home workers were ‘not allowed to detain the girls’.
However the review finds that other staff ‘completely disputed’ this account, and said they prevented girls leaving with potential predators by talking to them and confronting men who came to the home.
A review of children’s homes in the borough in 2014 highlighted a case of a girl who was ‘openly accepting money for sex’. She was using heroin, and had had reported having sex with Asian men for money.
She had resisted attempts to protect her, and had been missing from a home on 215 occasions. “In a situation which is intractable, the police and partners are proactively pursuing all routes to improve her level of safety,” a report at the time states.
Newsam and Ridgway state in their report: “There is evidence that some children in residential settings were being exposed to child sexual exploitation.
“Some of these children had suffered this abuse prior to their admission. There is also evidence that some children who had not been exposed to sexual exploitation were drawn into it through the encouragement of other residents.
“However the evidence suggests that residential staff worked in a professional and supportive way with these children to win their trust and protect them, as far as possible, from further abuse.
“We have seen evidence that, in some of these intractable cases, Oldham council would use secure accommodation to protect the child.”
Large portions of the report are dedicated to establishing whether authorities, the police, council and political leaders, covered up the activity of grooming gangs in the borough.
The review team conclude they find no evidence of a widespread cover up of sexual exploitation.
However in Sophie’s case it appeared that the council and GMP were more concerned with covering up their failures – and compounded these failures with denials that did not acknowledge the harm that had been done to a vulnerable young person.
The review finds no evidence that senior managers or councillors sought to cover up the potential exploitation of children by local taxi services.
And the team were provided with no evidence, either through interviews or documentary review, ‘to suggest that there was widespread exploitation of children in residential settings in Oldham’.
Allegations that a BBC journalist was pressured to drop a story investigating the risks of child sexual exploitation in shisha bars in the borough were also investigated.
They found no evidence that the journalist ‘colluded’ with the council in not highlighting the potential threat posed by shisha bars. The story was broadcast in February 2014.
An official statement released by GMP stated that they only had two pieces of intelligence about potential CSE, and neither of these were substantiated.
This was based on the response of a police sergeant who was asked to provide information in relation to the media enquiry.
The review team states they believe that the response was ‘not deliberately ‘spun’ to downplay the threat presented by shisha bars but represented the view of police officers in the district at the time’.
“While there had been, during the period 2011 to 2012, several intelligence submissions in respect of shisha bars and evidence of young people at risk of child sexual exploitation attending these premises, at the time of the press release the description was a proportionate statement of what was know and the potential risk these premises presented,” says the report.
“We have seen no evidence to suggest the messaging was to protect Oldham Labour party or that this direction was specifically led by local politicians.” This included the council leader at the time, and current Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton Jim McMahon.
“There was, however, a strong belief held at a serious level by both Greater Manchester Police and Oldham officers, also shared by politicians, that the threats presented by shisha bars might be exaggerated by the media and used by far-right interests to promote their agenda.”
The review team says that there was ‘no doubt’ that during this same period there were ‘legitimate concerns’ by the council and police that high-profile convictions of predominantly Pakistani offenders could be ‘capitalised on by a far-right agenda and lead to the victimisation of the Pakistani community’.
“However it is clear from all the evidence we have seen that the council and its partners in no way avoided addressing this, and in fact saw successful disruption and prosecution as the route to winning the confidence of all communities in Oldham,” they write.
“There is significant evidence that the council did everything possible to publicise the threat of child sexual exploitation.”
Reports went to council committees, bi-annual meetings were held with the leader, chief executive, cabinet members and the opposition leader to discuss safeguarding issues, and the council introduced a training module on CSE for councillors to attend.
This included the roll-out of performances of a play, ‘Somebody’s Sister, Somebody’s Daughter’, about sexual exploitation which was shown to more than 3,000 Oldham pupils across all the borough’s schools.
Then-council leader Jim McMahon wrote on his blog in 2014 that ‘anyone who shies away from accepting that in Rotherham, Oxford, Rochdale, and here in Oldham – and that this particular form of abuse is predominantly Pakistani men targeting white girls – is not helping the victims and nor is it helping the Asian community at large’.
He said that despite court cases being jumped on by far-right campaigners that was in fact ‘more of a reason to act’.
“If we don’t tackle wrongdoing, we give more oxygen to those who seek to gain politically by accusing those in authority of cover-ups and failures,” he wrote.
The review team say they believe this ‘clearly refutes’ suggestion that Mr McMahon was intending to protect perpetrators from the Pakistani community, but rather wanted to tackle it head on.
What the authorities say
In response to the report, Greater Manchester leaders have apologised for the failings by both police and child protection services.
Oldham council leader Amanda Chadderton said: “We fully accept the findings of this independent report.
“It highlights clear failings, where our services at the time were not good enough to protect vulnerable young people suffering the most awful abuse. For that I am deeply sorry.
“I can never fully understand what those girls went through, and I also know that an apology now will never make up for what has happened in the past.
“I do hope, however, to offer some reassurance that, as a council, we haven’t stood still since the time period the review refers to.
“We have learned from reports carried out in other towns and cities across the country, and from changes in national guidance, and have changed the way we do things as a result.
The way we work has already moved on immeasurably.
“That said, we are not complacent. We can and will improve further, wherever we need to.”
Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson said: “The safeguarding arrangements that were in place in GMP during the time period covered by the review were not good enough to protect children from sexual abuse.
“I want to offer my sincere apologies to everyone affected by the events considered in the report. Our actions fell far short of the help that they had every right to expect and were unacceptable.
“I am sorry for the hurt and on-going trauma they have suffered because of what happened to them.”
He added he intends to meet directly with Sophie and the organisation that has been supporting her to apologise in person.
“However, I would also like to take the opportunity today to state publicly that I am very sorry for the failings in how we responded to her call for help; for how we did not record or sufficiently investigate the crimes committed against her and did not do enough to listen and support her during the subsequent reviews we undertook of her case.
“I offer no excuses but can give assurances that our approach to tackling child sexual exploitation has vastly improved and is now a policing priority.”
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