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Serious failings but ‘no evidence of a cover-up’, says report into historic CSE cases

A report into child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases in Oldham between 2011 and 2014 has found structural flaws in the multi-agency system meant that children were not protected but says there is no evidence of a cover-up.


Serious failings but ‘no evidence of a cover-up’, says report into historic CSE cases

The independent assurance review into historic child sexual exploitation in Oldham, published this week, found serious failings in the handling of some cases.

Evidence of poor practice was attributed to a structural flaw the review team found in the multi-agency system that was set up to tackle to CSE leading to some children not being protected and perpetrators not being apprehended earlier.

The 200-page report was commissioned in November 2019 by Oldham Council who requested that the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the Greater Manchester Safeguarding Standards Board’s independent chair conduct a review into safeguarding practices in Oldham.

Despite allegations, a review by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway, found no evidence either through interviews or documentary reviews to suggest senior managers or councillors sought to cover-up the existence of CSE or the complexity involved in tackling perpetrators and nor was there widespread CSE in residential settings, in shisha bars or in the local taxi trade.

The review team said that a public statement by the Leader of Oldham Council in 2014 categorically refutes suggestions that the Leader had any intention to protect those perpetrators from the Pakistani community who were exploiting children in Oldham.

However, the efforts by the Council did not always translate into the appropriate level of safeguarding for young people at risk of CSE, which was corroborated when the review team looked at a sample of ten complex cases. 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.

The review also found a structural flaw in the design of the Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police multi-agency ‘Messenger’ service which was developed to tackle CSE. The service was primarily a police resource, with only one qualified social worker acting as a conduit between the specialist team and the mainstream childcare social work teams.

These latter teams were undertaking the assessments, safeguarding and planning, and the review team said that these were not always undertaken to the required standard, and managers within the mainstream service were not always giving these cases sufficient oversight and direction. By 2015, an independent consultant noted that the position in respect of assessment and planning for children at risk of exploitation had significantly improved.

The most scathing criticisms in the review related to the case of ‘Sophie’ [not her real name], who wrote a letter to the then Oldham Council Leader in 2019 and copied it to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, which raised serious allegations that she was subjected to profound sexual exploitation and that Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police failed in their duties to protect her. She was 12 years old at the time of the abuse in 2006. Sophie also complained that when these shortcomings were raised with both Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police, they failed to investigate them appropriately and denied any failures on their part.

The review team said 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 were subsequently made to Sophie and created the impression that both agencies were more concerned about covering up their failures than acknowledging the harm that had been done to a vulnerable young person. They recommend that both Greater Manchester Police and Oldham Council publicly acknowledge these serious failures and apologise to Sophie.

In terms of residential homes, the review found no evidence to suggest that there was widespread exploitation of children in residential settings in Oldham, but some children in residential settings were being exposed to child sexual exploitation, with some of the abuse occurring 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 review found that residential staff worked in a professional and supportive way with these children to win their trust and protect them from further abuse.

The review found no evidence that senior managers or councillors sought to cover up the potential exploitation of children by local taxi drivers. However, there is evidence that a small number of Oldham taxi drivers had been accused of or found guilty of sexual offences against children, with two cases presenting the independent reviewers cause for concern where the drivers were accused of sexually assaulting and raping female passengers. While neither driver was criminally prosecuted, the review team’s view is that there were sufficient concerns presented to the Council’s licensing panel in respect of these allegations for it to revoke one of the driver’s licences, and that police officers should have provided the panel with more details about the allegations relating to the other driver.

As a result of the assurance review, the current Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police has informed Oldham Council that he has commissioned a review of the content, application, and senior ownership of the force’s policies on disclosure, after a letter from the Head of Licensing in 2018 to GMP seeking to strengthen the quality of information and intelligence shared by the police with local councils went unanswered.

As a result of this assurance review, Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police have agreed to review the management of these cases and consider whether any further action can now be taken in respect of the men who exploited these children.

Responding to the review, Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, thanked the review team for the painstaking way in which they pursued the inquiry.

“Following the airing of the BBC documentary, The Betrayed Girls in 2017, about sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester, I announced shortly after that I wanted assurance to be provided to the public of Greater Manchester that everything possible has been done to protect children, prosecute offenders and prevent it from happening again.

“This report continues the process of shining a spotlight on past failures in Greater Manchester. Whilst difficult to read, it has identified a number of wrongs that need to be put right. There were serious failings and victims were let down, particularly Sophie. Whilst there was no evidence of a cover-up, we must not flinch from acknowledging shortcomings. I ask all public servants in Greater Manchester to read this report and its findings and consider what more we must do to strengthen our approach to child sexual exploitation. I will also fully support any actions to prosecute those responsible for these abhorrent crimes and hold to account those whose behaviour fell short of what we require.”

Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson, added: “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.

Leader of Oldham Council, Amanda Chadderton, said that the authority fully accepts the finding of the report, but hoped to offer some reassurance that the council hasn’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.”

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