Written by “A Classical Liberal”
I’ve recently been doing a lot of research into the grooming gangs scandal and the recent Home Office report on it, ‘Group-based Child Sexual Exploitation: Characteristics of Offending’, that was published on 15 December 2020.
As part of my research, I read an official report – ‘An Assurance Review of Operation Augusta’, published on 14 January 2020 – looking into whether a police operation into a grooming gang in south Manchester was deliberately kicked into the long grass because of a politically correct desire not to reveal the uncomfortable truth that the perpetrators were overwhelmingly men of Pakistani heritage.
I think that this report is very interesting for two reasons. First, it provides a helpful introduction to the background to the nationwide grooming gangs’ scandal. Indeed, it was investigative reporting of Operation Augusta that made the grooming gangs scandal front-page news that could no longer be brushed under the carpet. And, secondly, it provides a good example of what a proper report into grooming gangs should look like. When we compare the Home Office’s report on grooming gangs with this report, we instantly see how much of an insult the Home Office’s report actually is.
Following the tragic death of a fifteen-year-old girl, called Victoria Agoglia, who had previously told carers that she had been injected with heroin and then raped by an Asian man, Greater Manchester Police (GMP) launched Operation Augusta in 2004.
Despite investigators uncovering what they strongly suspected was a grooming network comprising 97 men of Pakistani-heritage in the Rusholme area of Manchester, who they believed were having sex with vulnerable children living in care homes, Operation Augusta was closed down in 2005.
Prompted by repeated allegations of failure made by investigative journalists and campaigners, including Maggie Oliver, who -after working on Operation Augusta as a Detective Constable – resigned in 2013 claiming that the force had failed victims of a grooming gang, and became a child sex abuse victim campaigner. In 2017, Manchester’s Mayor Andy Burnham, commissioned a report into Operation Augusta. The 145-page report – entitled ‘An Assurance Review of Operation Augusta’ – was published on 14 January 2020. Later that day, in a clear acknowledgement of GMP’s failures, Burnham claimed that Oliver had been vindicated.
The report studied a ‘sample’ of cases from that time, setting out a series of allegations of rape and sexual abuse made by girls that were not followed up by GMP or Manchester City Council. In every case, the report states:
We cannot offer any assurance that this was appropriately addressed by either GMP or Manchester City Council.
Therefore, ‘very few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice and neither were their activities disrupted’. Even though there was ‘clear evidence’ that young girls, aged between twelve and sixteen, were being sexually abused, and that this was ‘generally perpetrated by a group of older Asian men’.
The evidence held by GMP included: the perpetrators’ names, addresses where they lived or worked, and the locations of the flats above take-away shops where the abuse occurred. GMP also recorded how offenders would give drugs and alcohol to these girls before sexually and physically abusing them. The report is scathing:
The authorities knew that many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from the perpetrators.
Delving into the detail, the report reveals four points which I find particularly disturbing.
First, social workers knew that one fifteen-year-old girl, Victoria Agoglia, was being forcibly injected with heroin, but failed to act. She died two months later.
Second, abusers were allowed to freely pick up and have sex with Victoria and other children from city care homes ‘in plain sight’ of officials.
Third, GMP dropped Operation Augusta, which identified up to 97 potential suspects and at least 57 potential victims. Eight of these men went on to later assault or rape girls.
Fourth, as recently as August 2018, GMP’s Chief Constable refused to re-open Operation Augusta.
The report claims that senior GMP officers deliberately chose to under-resource Operation Augusta as a way of kicking it into the long grass. A decision was then made, on 22 April 2005, to close Operation Augusta down. This decision was then communicated to senior Council officials at a meeting later that day. The minutes of both meetings have gone missing. Although one officer’s notes do mention that ‘press strategies’ were discussed. Indeed, there are strong suggestions of a deliberate cover-up. Several officials chose not to cooperate with this review; and the report’s authors were also not allowed to see files concerning Victoria held by the Manchester City Coroner.
We now know ‘how’ Operation Augusta was deliberately kicked into the long grass. But, the more important question is ‘Why’? GMP has been accused of ‘covering up’ the historic child sex abuse in south Manchester over claims that they didn’t want to be accused of racism. But, does this worrying claim actually stand up to scrutiny?
Officers were aware of ‘many sensitive community issues’ between 2002 and 2005 and they feared ‘the incitement of racial hatred’. The report quotes an unnamed GMP Detective Constable who says that his superiors told him to ‘try to get other ethnicities’ rather than those of Asian heritage:
What had a massive input was the offending target group were predominantly Asian males and we were told to try to get other ethnicities.
The report also notes that senior GMP officers knew about the 2004 Channel 4 TV programme, ‘Edge Of The City’, concerning a similar problem in Keighley, West Yorkshire, and thought that Operation Augusta might raise media and political interest in a similar problem occurring in Manchester. The report also states, ‘Concerns were expressed about the risk of proactive tactics or the incitement of racial hatred’. At that time, GMP had recently dealt with an unrelated case involving Kurdish people in south Manchester, which had created community tensions, and Operation Augusta was set to examine accusations against another minority group. As a Detective Superintendent told the review, the possibility of creating further community tensions ‘clearly had to be considered’ by senior officers in the gold command group.
Thus, it seems abundantly clear that GMP did indeed cover up historic child sex abuse in south Manchester because they didn’t want to be accused of racism.
It is equally clear that the official report into Operation Augusta is not a cover-up. It provides honest answers to the questions that needed to be asked. It is not afraid to own up to mistakes that were made. It is also not afraid to tell uncomfortable and politically incorrect truths.
Thus, it serves as a useful benchmark against which to compare other official reports on grooming gangs. It is the kind of report that the survivors of these horrific crimes, and the public, deserve.
It is just a great shame that it took so long.
Independent assurance review of the effectiveness of multi-agency responses to child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester Part One An assurance review of Operation Augusta Malcolm Newsam CBE and Gary Ridgway December 2019 EMBARGOED UNTIL 10.00AM, TUESDAY JANUARY 14, 2020 – Read Full Report Here.