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Whistleblower confirms Rochdale grooming gangs still active


Girls were 'left at the mercy' of paedophile grooming gangs for years in Rochdale after police and council bosses failed to act on 'compelling evidence', a damning report has found.

The review into how police and social workers did not respond to large-scale child sexual exploitation by gangs of mainly Muslim men between 2004 and 2012 was published Monday morning and pointed the finger at failures within Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and Rochdale Council.

The report revealed that many abusers continue to walk free and it identified 96 men who are still deemed a potential risk to children. However, the true number of those involved in the abuse is believed to be much higher.

It also vindicated whistleblowers who had raised concerns about grooming gangs in the town, with former case worker Sara Rowbotham declaring 'shame on you' at retired police officers who refused to take part in the review.

Following its publication detective-turned-campaigner Maggie Oliver said despite dozens of people being jailed, grooming is 'categorically' still happening in Rochdale.

The report included details about how:

- The aborted foetus of a 13-year-old girl was taken by police without her consent to be tested for DNA, before being left forgotten in a freezer at a police station while the girl herself continued to be abused by men;
- Victims who gave evidence against their abusers were not protected from harassment and threats, with some having their homes targeted and guns pulled on them;
- Police took no action against a 'pimp' who impregnated a 15-year-old girl who later gave birth to his child;
- One child was even arrested and bailed to live with a man who had already been arrested on suspicion of child sex offences, before later being named as a co-conspirator in the trial of her abusers in a case the report called 'deplorable'.

Left in a freezer

The report details how GMP secretly took the aborted foetus of a 13-year-old rape victim and performed a DNA test on it without telling the girl or her parents.

The report found that the foetus was left in a freezer at a police station after the DNA was found not to be a match to possible suspects, and was only found during a 'routine property review' later. In the meantime, the girl was exploited by grooming gangs for years and was even at risk of being taken to Pakistan by them.

The girl in question, named in the 173-page document as Child 44, was even threatened by a man with a gun before the trial of the men who abused her - although she was left furious when the man who got her pregnant was not charged with raping her.

The Guardian reports that the child even bumped into her rapist in the supermarket after he was released early following his conviction conspiracy and sexual trafficking after no one told her he had been freed.

The review found that she, as well as another victim, were harassed and targeted by men after giving evidence against their abusers with terrifying incidents that saw them chased through the streets and their homes trashed.

The damning dossier also claims that no action was taken against a 'pimp' who got a 15-year-old girl pregnant, while another child claimed she was kept locked in cages and made to act like a dog or baby, with again, no action being taken against the men allegedly involved.

The report is the third of four written by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway – and saw apologies from Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, Greater Manchester Police and Rochdale Council.

The authors previously led a review of Operation Augusta, an investigation into grooming gangs in South Manchester, which was published in 2020, and the review into child safeguarding practices in Oldham, published in 2022.

It followed criticism of failings within Rochdale Council and Greater Manchester Police aired in BBC documentary, Betrayed Girls.

In October 2012, a review group chaired by GMP identified 127 potential victims whose cases had not been acted on – a figure which later grew to 260 potential victims.

After the first investigation, Operation Span, three more investigations - Operation Routh, Operation Doublet and Operation Lytton - saw 30 men convicted, many of whom received lengthy sentences.

Files held by officials for 111 children revealed 'a significant probability that 74 of these children were being sexually exploited at that time, and in 48 of those cases, there were serious failures to protect the child', the report revealed.

A fourth review is still to take place by Mr Newsam and Mr Ridgway, which is to 'consider current practice across Greater Manchester to address the risk of child sexual exploitation' and recent police investigations.

A series of initiatives have taken place around Rochdale since 2012, including better engagement with potential victims and a scheme encouraging hotel owners and taxi firms to report concerns.

Last year, an Ofsted report regarding Rochdale Council - including the Complex Safeguarding Hub - was published and confirmed that 'children at risk receive an effective response'.

Rochdale Council leader Councillor Neil Emmott said the authority is 'deeply sorry' for the 'very serious failures that affected the lives of children in our borough' and how officials 'failed to take the necessary action'.

And Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable Stephen Watson said: 'It remains to be a matter of profound regret that victims of child sexual exploitation in Rochdale in the early 2000s were failed by Greater Manchester Police – to them, I apologise.'

The report's publication comes a year after an independent review into child sexual exploitation in neighbouring Oldham found the ringleader of a notorious grooming gang, Shabir Ahmed, later jailed for 22 years, was able to continue working as a welfare rights officer by Oldham Council with police failing to tell his employers even after his arrest.

It is not the first official report into child sex exploitation in Rochdale - a report in 2013 found that hundreds of young girls were allowed to fall into the hands of Muslim grooming gangs because police and social workers may have been scared of seeming racist.

They refused to believe that race was an issue even though dozens of young, white girls were being specifically targeted and groomed for sex by older Pakistani men.

Children in the town of Rochdale were let down by all 17 agencies that were meant to protect them, the report said.