Children in care targeted and exploited, report finds

Greater Manchester Police chief constable Ian Hopkins

Children’s care homes in Manchester were targeted by sexual predators, a report has found, with victims left unprotected by police and social workers.

In 2017, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham commissioned an inquiry to explore the current and future delivery model of the response to child sexual exploitation (CSE) across Greater Manchester.

Part of the work was to review a decision to close Operation Augusta, an investigation into CSE in south Manchester in 2004/05.

The operation was set up following the death of Victoria Agoglia in 2003 when she was 15 years old. A major investigation team was set up in June 2004 and additional resources allocated, however, the operation was closed on 1 July 2005.

The report, Independent assurance review of effectiveness of multi-agency responses to child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester: Part One: An assurance review of Operation Augusta, found in the two years before her death, Victoria was repeatedly threatened, assaulted, returned to her residential unit intoxicated and in distress, and gave information that she was involved in sexual exploitation, allegedly raped and sexually assaulted.

It said: ‘Although Victoria was cared for by Manchester City Council, a man who had been previously identified as her so-called “pimp” was given permission to visit her in her accommodation three times a week.’

Following the operation’s launch, care homes in south Manchester had been contacted and 11 children in care were identified as potentially being subject to sexual exploitation.

It then identified 26 potential victims of CSE and up to 97 persons of interest.

The age range of victims were between 11 to 17, with the majority being 14 and 15 years old.

Police intelligence suggested offenders were targeting the care homes and children were befriended as soon as they arrived as they were seen by abusers as ‘easy pickings’.

Offenders understood a home in the city was used as an emergency placement unit for children entering the care system and maintained a supply of victims, the report said.

‘Fundamentally, Operation Augusta failed to meet the original objective of tackling the widespread and serious sexual exploitation of looked after children.

‘The authorities knew that many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from their perpetrators. This is a depressingly familiar picture and has been seen in many other towns and cities across the country.’

Chief constable Ian Hopkins said: ‘On behalf of Greater Manchester Police, I want to apologise to all those vulnerable children who were let down in 2004 by police not thoroughly investigating the offences that had been committed against them.

‘I want to say that I am personally disgusted that these children were not cared for and by the awful abuse that they suffered. I am committed to doing all we can to ensure that they receive the justice today that they were denied 15 years ago.

‘Since the Mayor of Greater Manchester launched his review looking into the abuse of vulnerable children in care and the involvement of Greater Manchester Police, I have been personally involved and committed to sharing all of the information that the review team required.’

A multi-agency team has identified 53 potential victims, 48 of which were in looked after care in 2004/05.

Of the 53, police have ‘identified viable lines of enquiry’ in relation to 38 victims.

In September, one man was arrested, and another interviewed under caution. Both men have been released and police enquiries remain ongoing.