Rochdale grooming: 'Shocking' failure over sex abuse

Rochdale A June 2008 report identified 50 children in the town at risk of sexual exploitation

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There was a "shocking" inability to protect seven vulnerable girls from sexual exploitation, a report into the Rochdale grooming case has said.

A serious case review by the Rochdale Safeguarding Children Board highlighted failures by 17 agencies who were meant to protect the children.

Police and social workers failed the girls who were "passed around for sex" by a gang of men, it said.

The review recommended a "speedy resolution" to leadership failures.

'Failure of protection'

"The report paints a shocking picture of the inability of these agencies to protect these young people successfully," said Jane Booth, chair of the safeguarding board.

Analysis

The appalling failures set out in this review leads to some difficult questions about how children in England are protected.

Something went fundamentally wrong, it seems, with how social workers were trained and managed in the early part of the last decade. Time and again, the failure to put the child at the centre of assessments is highlighted by serious case reviews. In Rochdale, such a basic requirement as actually speaking to the girl wasn't even done.

And do the police take child protection seriously? In Rochdale, police failed to turn up to dozens of meetings aimed at protecting one girl. Similar failings emerged earlier this year involving West Midlands Police.

All agencies in Rochdale are highlighting today that their practices have improved. But given the same failures keep happening across England, the question is whether a fundamental shift in child protection attitudes has taken place across the country.

The report came on the same day five men were jailed for grooming a teenage girl. The investigation into the sexual abuse of the girl had been reopened following the exposure of police failings.

The serious case review looked at six girls who suffered sexual exploitation in Heywood, Rochdale between 2007 and 2010.

A second serious case review looked at a separate case involving a seventh girl.

Nine men from Rochdale and Oldham were sentenced for up to 19 years in prison in May 2012 after being convicted of offences including rape.

Speaking to BBC Five Live, Sir Peter Fahy, chief constable of Greater Manchester, denied his officers had failed to investigate allegations of rape made by underage girls before a decision was taken not to prosecute in 2008.

"We have to remember that in most of those cases, the girls themselves did not regard themselves has victims and were not willing to make complaints and that is still the situation now," he said.

"We have got a number of girls in Rochdale that we believe are being abused and many of them will not talk to us and, even if they did, will not tell us about what is happening and certainly don't want to make a complaint because that means they go into the criminal justice system."

Five of the girls had "clearly" needed help and intervention by safeguarding agencies before the abuse began, the report said.

'Actively ignored abuse'

Failures highlighted include:

  • Greater Manchester Police (GMP) - Failure to recognise child sexual exploitation in the early stages
  • Rochdale Social Services - Lack of organisational priority over child sexual exploitation, an unstable duty and assessment team and a "chaotic" duty system
  • Health services - GPs had explicit information that some of the girls were at risk "that could have helped them identify the possibility of sexual exploitation at earlier points"
  • Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) - Recognition of child sexual exploitation in the early years "was very poor", resulting in missed prosecution opportunities in 2008

Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk (Labour) said agencies had actively ignored the abuse and that "social services believed these girls were making lifestyle choices".

"The biggest issue to come out of this report is that Greater Manchester Police (GMP) were effectively discriminating against poor, white, working-class girls, so that's not about a failure to spot abuse, that is about actively ignoring abuse that was going on when it was brought to their attention," he said.

However, Sir Peter said the report failed to confront a "fundamental" problem faced by police officers, who are repeatedly asked to track down and return young people missing from children's homes, only for them to run away again.

He said: "It creates a culture of hopelessness, where the police officers think 'what's the point?'

"We haven't sorted out a solution to these really complex issues about young people."

'Did not listen'

Sir Peter said Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd has set up an independent commission to look into the handling of cases involving teenagers with chaotic lifestyles.

"Most people would say it is crazy that there are 17 or 18 different agencies in a place like Rochdale in charge of children," he said. "That can't make sense."

Nazir Afzal, chief prosecutor in the North West - who overturned the original CPS decision not to prosecute over allegations of abuse in 2009 - said: "I absolutely accept that things didn't go well for us and other agencies.

"But people can feel some sense of reassurance that we are now bringing more cases to court."

A June 2008 report to Rochdale safeguarding children board had identified 50 children at risk of sexual exploitation.

Social workers focused on young people's high-risk behaviour and "not their vulnerability", the latest review found.

Numerous opportunities to intervene were missed and only two girls received child protection planning, the report said.

Parents felt agencies "failed to work together", did not listen or keep them informed.

One father called Children's Social Care (CSC) up to 50 times, reporting his daughter's "uncontrollable drinking, running away and difficult behaviour".

Social workers told him she was "a child prostitute", and he accepted this "because he did not know that it was wrong", the review said.

It revealed that some CSC staff have been subjected to disciplinary action, although no-one is thought to have been sacked.

Charity Victim Support's chief executive Javed Khan said: "It is utterly unacceptable that, instead of protecting these vulnerable young victims from sexual exploitation, the authorities judged, blamed and disbelieved them and their families and, in doing so, exposed these victims to further abuse.

"Lessons must be learnt from this report and measures implemented to ensure no other vulnerable children are treated as at fault."

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