Police watchdog does not know why 2004 inquiry into child grooming was closed

·2-min read
Police report child grooming - Joe Giddens
Police report child grooming - Joe Giddens

The police watchdog has been unable to discover why a 2004 inquiry that identified dozens of alleged child grooming victims and nearly 100 potential suspects was closed down a year later.

In January 2020, a damning report revealed the authorities suspected girls aged 12 to 16 were being abused in "plain sight" in south Manchester by Asian men, but nothing was done to protect them.

The report, ordered by the mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, centred on Operation Augusta, set up by police and social services in 2004 after the death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia.

Victoria, who was under the care of Manchester City Council, had reported being raped and injected with heroin by a 50-year-old Asian man. She died of an overdose two months later on September 29 2003.

Report showed 'systematic exploitation' of children in care

Operation Augusta identified at least 57 victims and 97 potential suspects, and a "compelling picture of the systemic exploitation of looked-after children in the care system" was established by detectives, the 2020 report found.

But senior officers at Greater Manchester Police (GMP) chose to under-resource the investigation and a decision was made to close it down in 2005.

In the wake of the 2020 mayoral review, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) started its own inquiry into the decision-making process of Operation Augusta and the conduct of three former GMP officers.

A "significant amount" of evidence was gathered from witnesses, including officers who worked on the operation and senior social services employees, said the IOPC.

Lack of available contemporaneous records

However the watchdog said it could not determine who took the final decision to close Operation Augusta in July 2005, nor the rationale for doing so.

It said among challenges it faced were a lack of available contemporaneous records of meetings and decisions, with some former GMP employees unwilling or unable to co-operate.

The IOPC concluded there was no indication the three officers had acted in a way that may have breached standards of professional behaviour.

GMP deputy chief constable Terry Woods said: "The Greater Manchester approach to tackling and preventing child sexual exploitation is now thankfully entirely different to the timeframe of this report.

"In GMP we have a dedicated CSE (child sexual exploitation) unit who are committed to pursuing perpetrators and seeking justice for victims of CSE, regardless of the passage of time."

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