Updated: Tuesday, 31st March 2020 @ 1:33pm

Operation Augusta: Investigation into sexual exploitation of Manchester children exposes major failings by authorities

Operation Augusta: Investigation into sexual exploitation of Manchester children exposes major failings by authorities

| By Emma Downey

An independent assurance review of the effectiveness of multi-agency responses to child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester released today has exposed serious faults within a system that should have protected children but instead ignored their pleas for help.

An assurance review of Operation Augusta has established that most of the children they considered were failed by police and children’s services.

The authorities knew that many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from the perpetrators.

Operation Augusta was originally set up in 2004 and uncovered the systematic exploitation of looked after children mainly in the care system in the city of Manchester.

PART 1 of assurance review of Operation Augusta report exposes:

  • How the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia in 2003 could have been prevented by police and children’s social care
  • How vulnerable children were let down by those who should have protected them
  • Children as young as 14 reported to have ‘boyfriends’ in their mid-20s who were abusing them
  • Sexual predators escaped justice to abuse again
  • Fundamental flaws in how the report was conducted

The review team undertook detailed analysis of a sample of 25 children known to Operation Augusta and concluded that there was a significant possibility that 16 children were being sexually exploited.

The age of the children who were being exploited ranged from 13-16 with children as young as 14 reported to have ‘boyfriends’ in their mid-20s who were abusing them.

The report, written by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway, considers the Operation Augusta investigation, which was launched by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) following the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia.

After years of abuse and days after she was injected with heroin by a 50-year-old man, Victoria died in hospital of an overdose in 2003.

Only weeks before her death, Victoria disclosed to her social workers that she was being injected with heroin by an older Asian man for favours.

No action was taken by the police or social care to address this, and Victoria subsequently died after having been administered an overdose. 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 re-opened.

'VERY FEW' BROUGHT TO JUSTICE

Victims of child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester will finally have a voice as their cases will be newly investigated as a result of the review commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.

The decision, made in 2017, came off the back of the BBC broadcast of the Betrayed Girls documentary about the Rochdale grooming scandal and sexual exploitation throughout a wide area of a significant number of children in the care system by predominately Asian men.

As a result, care homes within the South Manchester area had been canvassed and a total of 11 children in care were identified as potentially being subject to sexual exploitation.

However, there were fundamental flaws in how Operation Augusta was resourced and this had a significant negative impact on the investigation strategy and the way in which it was ultimately terminated.

The review says: “Whilst the report states there is much to be commended in Operation Augusta, it found that it had not addressed the issue it was set up for: to tackle the sexual exploitation of a number of children in the care system.

“Very few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice and neither were their activities disrupted.”

That report also said that it believed that the decision to close down Operation Augusta was driven by senior officers to remove the resources from the investigation rather than a sound understanding that all lines of enquiry had been successfully completed or exhausted.

It also added that the investigation relied too heavily on victims’ willingness to make complaints.

Critically, the problem that Operation Augusta had been set up to tackle, had not been addressed.

The reviews states: “There should never be an expectation that vulnerable children / young people can provide protection for themselves.”

The review team undertook a detailed analysis of a sample of 25 children known to Operation Augusta. They concluded there was a significant probability that 16 children in the sample were being sexually exploited, and the review team could offer no assurance that this abuse was appropriately addressed by either Greater Manchester Police or the responsible local authority.

Fifteen of these children were the responsibility of Manchester City Council. In respect of the remaining nine children in the sample, the review team conclude that there was insufficient available information for them to form a view as to whether the children had experienced sexual exploitation or whether these concerns were appropriately addressed. 

'WAKE-UP CALL'

Mayor Burnham said the suggestion that there had been a repeated failure to protect children in Greater Manchester led me to set up this review.

“Victoria’s death should have been a wake-up call on child sexual exploitation to the whole of Greater Manchester. But it wasn’t. Her death exposed a network of paedophiles brazenly abusing young people – girls and boys – in care.

"Each and every one of those abusers should have been brought to justice but, appallingly, most escaped and some were left to reoffend.

“The system was guilty of appalling failings and I say sorry to all the victims that they were let down in this way. But I can also say to them that I am determined to ensure others will not suffer in the way they have.”

He added that the fact that a new criminal investigation has been opened by GMP shows that it was “right to commission this review and that he would ensure that they will have all the resources they need to give the victims the justice they have so long waited to see." 

Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and Chair of the Child Sexual Exploitation Steering Group, Bev Hughes, added that there can be “no justifiable reason for the abandonment of Operation Augusta.”

Since Operation Augusta there has been a significant change in how child sexual exploitation is viewed: it is recognised as a serious form of child abuse.

Statutory agencies now work better together through multi-agency integrated teams and services to proactively prevent children from being exploited in the first place, finding and prosecuting the perpetrators when it happens, and putting victims first by listening to them and believing them and providing them with the support they need.

A Greater Manchester Safeguarding Standards Board has also been created with representatives from each of the 10 local safeguarding partnerships, chaired by an independent expert, to provide independent scrutiny to see how well Greater Manchester is responding to this complex and difficult issue.

It is now subject to peer review and the outcomes are being checked again by national experts external to Greater Manchester.

The independent review team has been unable to complete its second strand of work on the exploitation of children in Rochdale.

However, a data processing agreement has recently been signed with Rochdale Council and work is now progressing on this phase of the review. Given these delays, the Police and Crime Commissioner asked the review team to produce part one of its report, covering Operation Augusta.

Work on the other elements of the review continues and the final report covering those aspects will be produced in due course.

Off the back of this review, a new investigation under Operation Green Jacket has been opened by GMP, which encompasses both Victoria Agoglia’s case and those involved in Operation Augusta.

Specialist support has been offered to the victims whose stories are told in this report - for those affected and who wish to speak to police, or if you believe you have information that can assist the investigation team, email [email protected]

If you have information relating to or if you have been affected by these issues, please contact Victim Support on: 08081689024