A major criminal investigation undertaken from 2004 to 2005 that uncovered the systematic exploitation of looked after children mainly in the care system in the city of Manchester, led to very few positive criminal justice outcomes, an independent review has found.
Operation Augusta was launched following the death of Victoria Agoglia, a child in the care of Manchester City Council, at the age of 15 following an overdose in 2003.
The review of Operation Augusta by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway was commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, after the BBC documentary, The Betrayed Girls, about child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester on 3 July 2017.
The main findings of the Newsam/Ridgway report, An assurance review of Operation Augusta, were:
- Prior to her tragic death, Victoria Agoglia was subjected to multiple threats, assaults, and serious sexual exploitation. “This was known to both the police and children’s social care but none of these incidents led to an investigation to protect her from significant harm. Only weeks before her death, Victoria disclosed to her social workers that she was being injected with heroin by an older Asian man for favours. No action was taken by the police or social care to address this, and Victoria subsequently died after having been administered an overdose. The men who sexually exploited Victoria had never been brought to justice for their crimes even though her family have been campaigning for many years, for her case to be re-opened.”
- During its initial scoping phase the Operation Augusta investigation “built up a compelling picture of the systematic exploitation of looked after children in the care system in the city of Manchester”. They reported that there were potentially in the region of 97 persons of interest who had been identified as being involved in some way in the sexual exploitation of the victims.
- While the review team’s report recognised that there was much in Operation Augusta to be commended there were some fundamental flaws in how it was resourced. “This had a significant negative impact on the investigation strategy and the operation was prematurely closed down by senior officers before it could complete its work.”
- There were very few positive criminal justice outcomes emanating from Operation Augusta. Specifically, only two outcomes related to the original set of children who formed the target group for the investigation. The review team independently identified the names of 68 individuals who could reasonably have been assumed to have been part of the cohort of individuals referred to in the scoping report as persons of interest. The review also worked with the city council to identify if any of these adults were known to the council at the time, and whether the potential risks they presented to children had been actively considered. In summary, the report concluded that although there was significant information held by both Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police on some individuals who potentially posed a risk to children, the review team could offer no assurance that appropriate action was taken to address this risk.
- The review team undertook a detailed analysis of a sample of 25 children known to Operation Augusta. They concluded there was a significant probability that 16 children in the sample were being sexually exploited, and the review team could offer no assurance that this abuse was appropriately addressed by either Greater Manchester Police or the responsible local authority. (Fifteen of these children were looked after by Manchester City Council and one by another local authority).
- The assurance review established that most of the children they considered were failed by police and children’s services. “The authorities knew that many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from the perpetrators. This is a depressingly familiar picture and has been seen in many other towns and cities across the country. However, familiarity makes it no less painful for the survivors involved, and it should in no way detract from the need for them to be given the opportunity to ask that the crimes committed against them now be fully investigated. The review team also apply the same expectation to the family of Victoria Agoglia, who have been asking for her abuse to be investigated since her tragic death in 2003.”
The review team has recommended that the Mayor of Greater Manchester, as Police and Crime Commissioner, consider with Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council how the people who appeared to present a risk to children in 2004 can now be brought to justice and any risk they still present to children mitigated.
The Newsam/Ridgway review report emphasised that any future approach needed to go beyond the investigation of individual complaints and address the exploitation of a significant number of children as recognised by Operation Augusta at the time. “Anything less would risk repeating the mistakes of the past and not give the survivors the justice they deserve.”
A new investigation under Operation Green Jacket has been opened by Greater Manchester Police, which will encompass both Victoria Agoglia’s case and those involved in Operation Augusta.
Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “The report makes extremely difficult reading. But, it is only by fully facing up to past failures - however painful that is - that we will be able to correct them as best we can and better protect children today.
“Victoria’s death should have been a wake-up call on child sexual exploitation to the whole of Greater Manchester. But it wasn’t. Her death exposed a network of paedophiles brazenly abusing young people – girls and boys - in care. Each and every one of those abusers should have been brought to justice but, appallingly, most escaped and some were left to reoffend.”
The Mayor added: “This report reveals the same problematic institutional mindset in public authorities that we have seen elsewhere: young, vulnerable girls not seen as the true victims by those whose job it was to protect them but instead as the problem. The system was guilty of appalling failings and I say sorry to all the victims that they were let down in this way. But I can also say to them that I am determined to ensure others will not suffer in the way they have. My goal in publishing this report is to banish for good from Greater Manchester the old mindset that failed them so badly. We will have a zero tolerance approach to child sexual exploitation of any kind and authorities will hunt it down and root it out wherever it is found.
“The fact that a new criminal investigation has been opened by GMP shows that it was right to commission this review and I will ensure that they will have all the resources they need to give the victims the justice they have so long waited to see.
“Finally, I wish to praise the work of the whistleblowers without whose courage and determination the truth would never have been told.”
Report co-author Malcolm Newsam said: “Operation Augusta was set up to address the sexual exploitation throughout a wide area of a significant number of children in the care system. Our assurance review has established that very few of the relevant perpetrators were brought to justice and neither were their activities disrupted.
“Most of the children we have considered were failed by the police and children’s services. The authorities knew that many were being subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation but did not protect them from their perpetrators. Now as adults, they should be given the opportunity to ask that the crimes committed against them be fully investigated. We would also apply the same expectation to the family of Victoria Agoglia, who have been asking for her abuse to be investigated since her tragic death in 2003.”
Responding to the report, Joanne Roney, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, said: “This report makes for painful reading. We recognise that some of the social work practice and management oversight around 15 years ago fell far below the high standards we now expect. We are deeply sorry that not enough was done to protect our children at the time. Our hearts go out to all those affected.
“While we cannot change the past we have learned from it and will continue to do so to ensure that no stone is left unturned in tackling this abhorrent crime.”
Roney noted that the review itself acknowledged that the tackling of sexual exploitation of children had improved considerably. “Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police work together much more closely and effectively to identify young people at risk of exploitation, put safeguarding measures in place to protect them and pursue perpetrators. The welfare of those young people always comes first.”
She added that work to build up trusted relationships with potential victims was also having success – “both in prevention and in the prosecution of offenders.”
Roney said the council had carefully reviewed all of the cases and where social work practice had fallen far short of what was required it had taken action and referred the individuals to the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC), the professional body, to consider their ‘fitness to practice.’ Four former staff have been referred. A completely different children's leadership team is now in place, she added.
In terms of further reviews the Mayor of Greater Manchester said work continued on the remaining workstreams of the review including the assurance exercise into non-recent child sexual exploitation in Rochdale. There will also be support for the delivery of a separate assurance review into child sexual exploitation in Oldham which has been commissioned by Oldham Council and the borough’s Safeguarding Partnership