Oldham abuse: Mayor booed as survivor addresses meeting

  • Published
Media caption,

Andy Burnham and councillors were heckled and booed throughout the meeting

A survivor of abuse has told Oldham councillors and Greater Manchester's mayor they should "hang their heads in shame" over what happened in the town.

A recent report found local children were failed by the agencies meant to protect them from sexual abuse.

The woman told an extraordinary meeting of Oldham Council, at which Andy Burnham was present, her experience as a child was "absolutely horrendous".

The mayor and the council were heckled and booed throughout the meeting.

An independent inquiry, which was set up after allegations circulated on social media that Oldham Council was covering up what it knew about grooming gangs in the town, found there were structural flaws in Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and the council's safeguarding systems, but discovered no evidence of a cover-up.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service said the survivor addressed the fractious meeting on Monday and told councillors she was taken into the care of the local authority in the 1980s.

She said she was "taken off the streets of Oldham" at the age of 16 and "out of the area".

"I was taken along the M62 to other Northern towns, because that's what happens," she said.

"It was absolutely horrendous.

"I think it's about time that you held your heads in shame and realised what's been going on for 50 years."

'Failing thousands'

The meeting allowed the town's residents to put questions about the report to Labour-led council's leader Amanda Chadderton, Mr Burnham, Oldham's director children's services Gerard Jones and Ch Supt Chris Bowen, the GMP's district commander for Oldham.

Thirty-five pre-submitted questions were put to the panel, but many of the answers were almost drowned out by the shouts from the public gallery.

A member of the public asked Ms Chadderton to tell those assembled "who will be held accountable for the travesty happening in our town?"

Ex-Liberal Democrat councillor Jackie Stanton added that the council leader and chief executive should "admit to the public of Oldham" that none of them are "capable of dealing with the horrific findings".

"Will they refer themselves to the government for failing thousands of Oldham children?" she added.

Ms Chadderton said the council had "never shied away from the fact that these extremely evil men are out there who commit these horrendous crimes" and keeping children safe was "a daily challenge".

"The report makes it clear that we were aware of the issue," she said.

"We were working to tackle it and we were working to promote the risk of [child sexual exploitation]."

She added that the report did not "allege any misconduct in public office by council staff", but the authority would work with GMP so that "should any misconduct be uncovered", it would take action.

'Kicking and screaming'

Questions were also raised about the Rochdale grooming gang leader Shabir Ahmed, who worked for Oldham Council while accused of serious child sexual abuse.

Ms Chadderton said the council was not informed about the allegations until two years after Ahmed left the authority's employment and he "was not protected by the council either by officers or politicians".

Liberal Democrat group leader Howard Sykes said the report had left him "outraged, angry and disgusted" as "over many years", he had "scrutinised safeguarding matters".

"I was given repeated assurances and the facts in this report are news to me," he said.

"Why did we not know this was happening?"

Image source, LDRS
Image caption,
People in the public gallery held up signs reading "cover up" throughout the meeting

Tory councillor Lewis Quigg said the council had been "dragged kicking and screaming" to debate the review's findings.

"This abuse has been going on for years," he said, adding: "For too long, justice has been denied."

Mr Burnham, who was heckled throughout, said he had commissioned the overarching review in 2017, into which the Oldham review was incorporated, "because I wanted to ensure that a spotlight is shone" on GMP and the councils involved.

The Labour mayor said the report, which had been described both as a "damning indictment" and a "cover up" by critics "can't be both".

"It's action, it's prosecution that the public of Oldham will want to see," he added.

GMP recently launched a new investigation to support victims of abuse in Oldham and pursue those responsible.

Ch Supt Chris Bowen said the force was on a "journey of continuous improvement" and tackling the crimes highlighted was now a "top priority". 

"GMP has changed since the time covered by this review," he said.

"We did not wait for the review to remedy the lost opportunities of the past."

Why not follow BBC North West on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? You can also send story ideas to northwest.newsonline@bbc.co.uk

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.