Rochdale girls fells into hands of sex gangs because of ‘shocking’ failures
Change in culture urged after review finds groomed girls were let down by the agencies that were meant to protect them.
A generation of underage girls in Rochdale were allowed to fall into the hands of grooming gangs because of a catalogue of failings by the agencies meant to protect them, an official report has concluded.
Among the failings identified in the 300-page report, are that police used untrained detectives to investigate child exploitation and there was a lack of resources and oversight.
The serious case review was announced by Rochdale council last year after nine men were convicted of the systematic grooming and sexual abuse of girls in the town. The findings of the review have resulted in an acknowledgement by Greater Manchester police (GMP) that the force had let down a number of vulnerable girls.
Experts in child sexual exploitation estimate that hundreds of victims slipped through the care net in Rochdale between 2003 and 2012. And they fear that since the sexual exploitation of children is prevalent in many other towns and cities the national figure will run into thousands.
An internal police investigation, highlighted in the serious case review, also found a failure to recognise abuse.
It found that:
• Officers failed to challenge a Crown Prosecution Service decision not to prosecute
• There was a lack of resources and managerial support for the investigations, initially led by CID, despite formal requests
• Detectives without training in child sexual exploitation were used to interview potential victims
• There was a lack of managerial oversight for investigations in 2008 and 2009
• There was a lack of strategies to respond to frequent “runaways”, which allowed them to return to their abusers
• There was a recognition that there may have been discriminatory attitudes among police officers towards the victims.
Jane Booth, chair of the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board, which published the review, said she was shocked by what had been uncovered.
“What we have found is that there were significant failings in how the agencies were able to respond, both as single agencies and, more critically, when working together.
“The agencies need to approach the issues in a radically different way if we are going to continue to improve services and protect children.”
She said the girls were often already vulnerable because of underlying issues in their families. Once they fell into the grip of the gangs “they were not listened to or understood”.
Booth added: “This a bleak situation. Over a period of years these young people were let down by all the agencies they dealt with. What shocked me was the willingness of staff to accept that they couldn’t do anything. Time and again, people were confronted by things they thought were not right. But they didn’t believe there was a solution to it.
“Police officers didn’t think they’d get support from the Crown Prosecution Service. The CPS didn’t think the courts would believe the young people. Children’s social care didn’t believe they could intervene in a way that would stop them running away.
“A whole host of people didn’t think they could do anything that was positive. That shocked me. I think they were distressed that they couldn’t do anything. What they failed to do was to challenge each other’s inaction.”
Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, said a change of culture was needed within Greater Manchester police in dealing with child abuse cases.
“Judgments were made against young people on council estates because of their background and class, and this report confirms this,” he said. “The approach has been completely wrong. Senior police officers keep talking about deploying more resources, but they’re sending out untrained officers who cannot win the trust of victims. We need better leadership on this issue.”
The serious case reviews identified “a widespread pattern of weaknesses and failings” both at organisational level and at the grass roots. Together they undermined the agencies’ ability to protect and safeguard young people.
Policy and procedures were either not available or were poorly understood and implemented on the frontline.
There was an absence of high quality supervision, and high workloads and lack of resources contributed “to disorganisation and at times a sense of helplessness”.
Furthermore, there was a focus more on quantitative practice rather than the quality of care that was needed.
Six of the seven young people considered in the reviews were in need of help several years before they were sexually exploited. Had the agencies moved in at that stage, the girls could have been better protected.
Even when sexual exploitation had been identified, the agencies failed to respond effectively. “Had they done so, then repeated abuse and [the] abuse of other young people might have been avoided.”
The abuse suffered by the young people involved in the review was “shocking”, and their experiences reflected the experiences of “a larger group who were targeted by perpetrators able to identify their vulnerability”.
Although reforms of the system had already begun, there was still much to be done in Rochdale. The safeguarding board has demanded action plans from all the agencies, and it plans to carry out an audit of multi-agency work in March.
It is understood that only two of the agencies involved – Greater Manchester police and Rochdale social care – have begun disciplinary procedures against staff perceived to have failed.
Sir Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester police, admitted his force had allowed itself to “get into a mindset of hopelessness”. But he told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he was not considering resignation over the failures.
“There are still some major problems in the system,” he said. “Tonight in Greater Manchester and across the country, police officers will be battling [with the question]: ‘What do I do with this 14-year-old person who keeps going missing? What’s the point of taking them back to the children’s home when they are going to run away again?’ We haven’t sorted out a solution to these really complex issues about young people.”
Fahy said detectives in Rochdale had told him they believed the accounts of certain girls, but had not put the case forward because they knew the CPS would decide not to proceed.
Specialist officers are now being deployed to build long-standing relationships with victims. Such girls could not bring themselves to disclose the abuse immediately, but might eventually feel sufficiently reassured to do so, said Fahy.
“The number one issue is the protection of young people, and we need the public to be angry that information is not always shared between agencies. We also have to recognise that it is not always in the best interest of the victim to actually bring a prosecution. Their welfare has to be the main priority.”