London - A botched police investigation into child sexual grooming left abusers free to rape and prey on vulnerable girls for 15 years, a report revealed on Tuesday.
Almost 100 suspects were investigated after 15-year-old abuse victim Victoria Agoglia was given a fatal heroin overdose by a 50-year-old man.
But despite 57 potential victims as young as 12 being identified, only seven suspects were prosecuted or given warnings. Just two abusers were jailed and the probe by Greater Manchester Police was wound up in mysterious circumstances.
On Tuesday a report commissioned by city mayor Andy Burnham revealed what he called an ‘appalling’ betrayal of dozens of children in council care.
He set the report up in 2017 following BBC documentary Betrayed Girls, which highlighted fears by ex-detective-turned-whistleblower Maggie Oliver that offenders escaped scot-free. It found some of the mainly Asian men accused of abusing white children in care "in plain sight" went on to rape and sexually exploit girls. The report exposed how victims were dismissed as ‘promiscuous’, with abusers classed as ‘pimps’.
It also revealed fears had been raised over the impact of the Operation Augusta probe on race relations at the time.
The report said "concerns were expressed about the risk of proactive tactics or the incitement of racial hatred". One detective revealed that officers were told to "try and get other ethnicities". Yesterday whistleblower Mrs Oliver said police and social services chiefs ‘knew the truth and chose to bury the truth’ – which they deny.
And she demanded officers who shut down the probe be prosecuted for misconduct. The chief constable at the time, Mike Todd, was found dead near the summit of Snowdon in 2008 after being exposed for cheating on his wife.
Mr Burnham said the report had finally "shone a light on this dark chapter". "Every one of those abusers should have been brought to justice but, appallingly, most escaped and some were left to reoffend," he said.
He is to ask the Attorney-General to quash Victoria’s inquest – which concluded she had not been failed by social workers – and order a new one.
Almudena Lara, of the NSPCC, said the report outlined ‘shocking failures’ to protect the vulnerable. In 2003, the Mail revealed how authorities in northern towns refused to acknowledge the scale of the abuse, with suspicions they were motivated by political correctness.
Last night a victim of the subsequent Rochdale grooming scandal said girls may have been protected had Operation Augusta not been shelved in 2005. It had been launched in February 2004, identifying as many as 97 potential perpetrators who were mainly Asian men working in restaurants.
Police were unable to trace notes of the decision to pull funding for the inquiry. Five of the officers involved declined to be interviewed or could not be contacted.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct has been asked to investigate. Current Greater Manchester chief constable Ian Hopkins yesterday apologised to victims who had been failed.
The force reopened its investigation into Victoria’s death last year and pledged to pursue alleged abusers identified by Operation Augusta.
City council chief Joanne Roney said she was ‘deeply sorry not enough was done to protect our children at the time’.