Chief Constable of GMP apologises to victims of Rochdale grooming gangs
Date published: 12 April 2022
Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson
The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson QPM, has met and personally apologised to three victims of grooming gangs in Rochdale for a catalogue of investigative failings that prevented their abusers from being brought to justice.
The three women, who are entitled to lifelong anonymity, have also received a substantial settlement of damages for a historic claim launched against Greater Manchester Police in 2019. Centre for Women’s Justice acted for all three women in the proceedings.
The Chief Constable’s meeting with the survivors comes exactly a decade after the 2012 trial that resulted in some, but by no means all, members of the notorious grooming gangs being convicted for their sexual exploitation of children.
In the same year, Detective Constable Maggie Oliver – an officer who had worked on the investigation – resigned from the force and turned whistle-blower in protest at what she saw as gross failures to protect these victims on the part of the Chief Constable, senior police colleagues and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Despite the concerns repeatedly raised over the past 10 years, today’s apologies mark the first formal recognition by Greater Manchester Police of the extent to which they were failed.
Following a meeting with the three survivors in person on Tuesday afternoon (12 April), the Chief Constable published a written statement:
"Today is not about Greater Manchester Police, but about those victims who in the past have been let down when they needed our help in the most traumatic and horrific circumstances. I have now personally delivered my apology to some of these victims for the failings Greater Manchester Police had in its contact with those who suffered child sexual exploitation in Rochdale. It is a matter of profound personal regret that the childhoods of these victims were so cruelly impacted by the dreadful experiences they endured. GMP could, and should, have done much more to protect them.
“The failings of our past into Child Sexual Exploitation are well known, and thankfully there is today a far better understanding of CSE than there was before the Operation Span trial in May 2012, and we are committed to leaving no stone unturned to bring these offenders to justice, no matter the passage of time, through our dedicated Force CSE unit. We will strive to keep improving our responses to similarly horrible circumstances, to prevent the same from happening in the first instance and relentlessly pursuing perpetrators so that they can be held fully to account.
“I hope that my apology and commitment to rectifying the poor practices of the past will provide some little comfort to those we failed.
“We have also agreed with the recipients to publish my apologies in full on our website.”
As a result of police failures to respond to evidence of mass child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, the men who had groomed the three children were able to continue physically, emotionally and sexually abusing them over a period of years.
Even after they were eventually asked to give evidence about their abuse, the majority of their allegations were not prosecuted, or even recorded as crimes.
Shockingly, two of the three teenage girls were repeatedly treated as criminals by the authorities, when they were in need of protection.
One of the victims’, ‘Daisy’, now has to live with a childhood criminal record, meaning that for some jobs she will have to disclose to employers that her ‘criminal’ past relates to a history of grooming and sexual abuse.
Another young woman, known as ‘Amber’, had to fight tirelessly for custody of her own children.
To all three of the victims, the Chief Constable stated: “It is a matter of profound personal regret that your childhood was so cruelly impacted by the dreadful experiences which you endured. GMP could, and should, have done much more to protect you and we let you down.”
The three women have welcomed the Chief Constable’s apologies, and the long-awaited conclusion of their protracted legal proceedings against Greater Manchester Police.
‘Amber’ said: “I feel like this is the first time I’ve really been seen and publicly recognised by authorities as an innocent child victim who needed protection.
“The way I was treated at the time had a terrible impact on my life, for years after the abuse ended.
“As a victim I should never have been treated the way I was, so it is a relief, after all these years, that the police have finally recognised that.”
‘BXW’ said: “The police were completely in the wrong for the way they treated us. I’m relieved that they’ve accepted that at last and that our legal case has come to an end.”
‘Daisy’ said: “I don’t know if I believe that Greater Manchester Police have really changed their ways as they say they have, but I’m happy that they’ve taken into account their failings and there’s finally been some accountability.
“It’s been 10 years since Operation Span and until now they’d never accepted what really happened.
“If we’d never found lawyers, I don’t know if they ever would have apologised to us.”
Former Detective Constable Maggie Oliver – and founder of the Maggie Oliver Foundation, a charity that supports and advocates for survivors of child sexual abuse – said: “I feel relieved that finally, after an all-consuming 10-year battle, GMP have at last acknowledged their horrific treatment of these three victims was wrong, even inhumane.
“Their powerful legal teams and the previous chief constables have blocked this action at every point, believing we would just give up and go away. But that was never going to happen.
“And whilst an apology can never put right the harm that has been done to these young girls, at least now they can begin to look ahead to the rest of their lives, knowing they were failed. I know that each of them wishes they had never put their trust in the police, as the damage caused by the treatment they received has, in many ways been as bad as, if not worse than, the sexual abuse itself, which is a damning indictment of our so-called ‘justice’ system.”
Kate Ellis, a solicitor at Centre for Women’s Justice who acted for the three claimants, said: “It is extraordinary what these three women have achieved after all they have been through.
“We hope that today’s outcome will serve as a reminder to Greater Manchester Police, and other police forces, that they will be held to account if they fail to protect vulnerable children from exploitation and abuse.”
Harriet Wistrich, director of CWJ, said: “The trial ten years ago was hailed as a victory, but it followed years of abject policing failures. Sadly, such failures are still prevalent across the country as highlighted in the recent publication of the IICSA inquiry into CSE by organised networks.
“We hope this historic victory will provide an additional spur to police forces around the country to implement effective measures to tackle this pernicious crime.”
While this settlement brings an end to the women’s legal action against the police to an end, proceedings are still ongoing against the Crown Prosecution Service.
The three survivors are hopeful that today’s apologies from Greater Manchester Police will encourage the CPS to engage with them in a meaningful dialogue about a more victim-centred approach to child sexual abuse prosecutions.
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