A FORMER Bolton police inspector is calling for the compensation of children who were sexually exploited by grooming gangs 16 years ago.

A damning report found police and social workers failed to protect at least 57 girls from a paedophile network based in south Manchester.

And John Piekos, who has since set up Safe and Free, a charity working to tackle modern slavery and Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), wants action to help the victims recover.

John, who at the time covered Bolton CID and worked in the murder and hostage investigation department, said: “These girls are victims of crimes who have to wrestle with the horrors of the abuse they experienced sometimes for the rest of their lives.

“They were badly let down by the very system which should have protected them and prepared them for a normal life.

“I believe they now deserve on-going support to ensure they get all the help they need.”

The report, commissioned by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, found children were raped and abused by up to 100 members of a gang of predominantly Asian men.

Most of the victims were in care and authorities knew they were being “subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation” but did “not protect them from the perpetrators”.

Some victims told carers and police officers about the sexual assaults, giving names and addresses. But the 145-page report into child exploitation in Manchester found no action was taken.

The girls were hooked on drugs, groomed and raped. One of the girls, Victoria Agoglia died, aged just 15.

John said: “It is only when we carefully listen to the words of Victoria’s grandmother that one is able to sense the futility, desperation and isolation she must have felt as

she struggled to be heard and taken seriously.  How can we ever make that wrong right?

“My condolences go to Victoria’s family and hopefully this report can be the catalyst for truth and justice for Victoria.”

John, who set up the charity because he recognised modern slavery and child exploitation is a widespread and under resourced issue, said this case is just the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

He said: “This is an epidemic up and down the country. This report reveals shameful practices which have occurred in anything but isolation.

“Some good work has been done to improve practices but vulnerable children, have not suddenly ceased to exist and they are still targets for exploitation.”

In 2015, child sex abuse was prioritised as a “national threat” by then Prime Minister David Cameron.

John said: “Let’s be clear - this is a not an isolated incident it is part of a much bigger picture.

“I believe that the wider picture remains shrouded in secrecy and denial, but it needs to be honestly, openly and publicly discussed and defined.

“Only then, as a nation can we properly own this - our most shameful problem. Then, as a society, we may each play our part in defeating it.”

Safe has designed a free educational resource to educate young people on the ways that grooming, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and trafficking can occur.

John said: “We need to raise awareness of how perpetrators target children, educate parents, young people and wider members of the community as to ways to stop it."

For more information visit www.safeandfree.co.uk/about-safe-and-free or call 0844 800 8563.