CHILDREN subjected to years of traumatic sexual abuse were consistently failed by the police, child services and local councils, says a new report into historic sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.

HELENA VESTY on the report’s horrific findings and the response from Bolton’s council.

CHILDREN, many in care, not only fell victim to sexual predators, but also to a system which allowed ‘brazen offenders’ to escape justice and reoffend, according to a new report.

Police in Greater Manchester knew that many children were being hooked on drugs, groomed and raped by gangs.

Social workers too watched as children fell into the hands of a paedophile ring in South Manchester, with abusers ‘given permission’ to visit children at city care homes in ‘plain view’ of staff.

The children even reported the allegations themselves to the police and to their social care workers, but the ‘clear evidence’ about the gang of predominantly older, Asian men, including their names, locations and telephone numbers, was not used to put a stop to the horror suffered by victims.

The report, commissioned by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, was the result of a two-year inquiry into historic failures to protect children.

One such victim was Victoria Agoglia — a 15-year-old child in the care of Manchester City Council.

The report revealed that Victoria told authorities over and over that she was being forcibly injected with drugs and raped by older men. Nothing was done and just weeks after another plea for help, Victoria died in hospital after being injected with heroin.

Malcolm Newsam, one of the report’s authors and a child protection specialist, said: “Although Victoria was cared for by Manchester City Council a man who had been previously identified as sexually exploiting her was given permission to visit her in her accommodation three times a week.

“The men who sexually exploited Victoria have never been brought to justice for their crimes, even though her family have been campaigning for many years for her case to be reopened.”

An investigation, Operation Augusta, was launched in response to her death. It was intended to disrupt the activities of the gangs and bring people to justice — an aim which was never achieved.

Within weeks, at least 57 potential victims, both boys and girls, were found — 97 possible suspects were identified.

But despite these damning findings, no resources were allocated to help with the scale of the investigation and it was shut down abruptly just one year on. The eight men who were warned, charged or convicted as a result of the operation went on to commit more sexual crimes.

Mr Newsam said: “In social care records, there was clear evidence that professionals at the time were aware that young people were being sexually exploited and that this was perpetrated by a group of older Asian men.

“But the available evidence was not used to pursue the offenders.

“The perpetrators appeared to be operating in plain sight, hanging around in cars outside care homes and foster homes and returning young people to their care addresses.

“The authorities knew that many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them. This is a depressingly familiar picture seen in many other towns and cities across the country.

“However, familiarity makes it no less painful for the survivors.”

Along with revelations of harrowing historic abuse across the region, in the likes of Rochdale and Oldham, Bolton has had its own investigations into suspected child sexual exploitation.

In June 2018, six men, aged 18, 18, 28, 25, 21 and 29; and one 17-year-old boy were arrested after a report that a teenage girl had been groomed and raped by a number of men in Blackrod since March 2016. They were subsequently released under investigation.

Despite the report’s suggestion that Manchester City Council stood by as children were being abused, Bolton Council says its confident that safeguarding measures are working in its own borough.

A spokesman said: “We welcome this report that looks at historic cases of CSE elsewhere in Greater Manchester and makes recommendations for how safeguarding can be improved.

“In Bolton, we have worked closely with our partners in GMP to develop a robust approach to detecting and preventing this abhorrent crime.

“As a council, we are assured that proper safeguarding measures are in place.”

In the wake of the explosive report, there are now calls for renewed investigations.

Mr Newsam said: “Now as adults, the survivors should be given the opportunity to ask that the crimes committed against them be fully investigated. We would also apply the same expectation to the family of Victoria Agoglia, who have been asking for her abuse to be investigated since her tragic death in 2003.”

The Bolton News:

The police admit they ‘fell short’ in protecting children being sexually exploited.

But people across Manchester have been left asking what can be done now to bring justice to the victims and to ensure such sweeping failings no longer happen.

Police bosses have issued an apology for not protecting victims identified in their own investigation into child sexual exploitation, saying that ‘priorities for police were very different’ in the early 2000s.

Assistant Chief Constable Mabs Hussain, Head of Specialist Crime for Greater Manchester Police, said: “We accept that authorities fell short of doing all they could to protect and support the child victims of sexual exploitation identified under Operation Augusta in 2004.

“Children should be able to expect those responsible for their care will do all they can to keep them safe and I want to apologise to all those vulnerable children who were let down. I can only imagine the pain and distress they must have gone through, which would have only been made worse by these failings. I am sorry they were let down and I am sorry they were not protected from harm.”

The police say they have launched a number of investigations into the failings, along with new safeguarding teams.

Mayor Andy Burnham praised the opening of a new investigation, saying: “The fact that a new criminal investigation has been opened by GMP shows that it was right to commission this review and I will ensure that they will have all the resources they need to give the victims the justice they have so long waited to see.”

In the outer reaches of the 10 boroughs, Bolton has made its own efforts to stop exploitation.

Last year, the Bolton Safeguarding Children Board began a new two-year strategy to combat sexual abuse. The plans read: “It is an area of child safeguarding that has received a higher profile in the last few years following a number of significant criminal investigations, learning reviews and targeted inspection.”

The board aims to reduce likelihood of children becoming victims, take action to safeguard children at risk, and to target, disrupt and prosecute the perpetrators. The report also points toward modern trends which the safeguarding teams are looking out for, including the risks of exploitation starting with online activity.