The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, Stephen Watson QPM, has met and personally apologised to three victims of grooming gangs in Rochdale for a catalogue of investigative failings that prevented their abusers from being brought to justice.
The three women, who are entitled to lifelong anonymity, have also received a substantial settlement of damages for a historic claim launched against Greater Manchester Police in 2019. Centre for Women’s Justice acted for all three women in the proceedings.
The Chief Constable’s meeting with the survivors comes exactly a decade after the 2012 trial that resulted in some, but by no means all, members of the notorious grooming gangs being convicted for their sexual exploitation of children. In the same year, Detective Constable Maggie Oliver – an officer who had worked on the investigation – resigned from the force and turned whistle-blower in protest at what she saw as gross failures to protect these victims on the part of the Chief Constable, senior police colleagues and the Crown Prosecution Service.
Despite the concerns repeatedly raised by former officer, Maggie Oliver, regarding these women’s cases over the past 10 years, today’s apologies mark the first formal recognition by Greater Manchester Police of the extent to which they were failed. Following a meeting with the three survivors in person on Tuesday afternoon, the Chief Constable will be publishing a written version of his apologies on Greater Manchester Police’s website.
As a result of police failures to respond to evidence of mass child sexual exploitation in Rochdale, the men who had groomed the three children were able to continue physically, emotionally and sexually abusing them over a period of years. Even after they were eventually asked to give evidence about their abuse, the majority of their allegations were not prosecuted, or even recorded as crimes.
Shockingly, two of the three teenage girls were repeatedly treated as criminals by the authorities, when they were in need of protection. One of the victims’, ‘Daisy’, now has to live with a childhood criminal record, meaning that for some jobs she will have to disclose to employers that her ‘criminal’ past relates to a history of grooming and sexual abuse. Another young woman, known as ‘Amber’, had to fight tirelessly for custody of her own children.
To all three of the victims, the Chief Constable stated: ‘It is a matter of profound personal regret that your childhood was so cruelly impacted by the dreadful experiences which you endured. GMP could, and should, have done much more to protect you and we let you down.’
The three women have welcomed the Chief Constable’s apologies, and the long-awaited conclusion of their protracted legal proceedings against Greater Manchester Police.
‘Amber’ said: ‘I feel like this is the first time I’ve really been seen and publicly recognised by authorities as an innocent child victim who needed protection. The way I was treated at the time had a terrible impact on my life, for years after the abuse ended. As a victim I should never have been treated the way I was, so it is a relief, after all these years, that the police have finally recognised that.’
‘BXW’ said: ‘The police were completely in the wrong for the way they treated us. I’m relieved that they’ve accepted that at last and that our legal case has come to an end.’
‘Daisy’ said: ‘I don’t know if I believe that Greater Manchester Police have really changed their ways as they say they have, but I’m happy that they’ve taken into account their failings and there’s finally been some accountability. It’s been 10 years since Operation Span and until now they’d never accepted what really happened. If we’d never found lawyers I don’t know if they ever would have apologised to us.’
Former Detective Constable Maggie Oliver – and Founder of the Maggie Oliver Foundation, a charity that supports and advocates for survivors of child sexual abuse – said: ‘I feel relieved that finally, after an all-consuming 10-year battle, GMP have at last acknowledged their horrific treatment of these three victims was wrong, even inhumane. Their powerful legal teams and the previous Chief Constables have blocked this action at every point, believing we would just give up and go away.
But that was never going to happen. And whilst an apology can never put right the harm that has been done to these young girls, at least now they can begin to look ahead to the rest of their lives, knowing they were failed. I know that each of them wishes they had never put their trust in the police, as the damage caused by the treatment they received has in many ways been as bad as, if not worse than, the sexual abuse itself, which is a damning indictment of our so called ‘justice’ system.’
Kate Ellis, a solicitor at Centre for Women’s Justice who acted for the three claimants, said: ‘It is extraordinary what these three women have achieved after all they have been through. We hope that today’s outcome will serve as a reminder to Greater Manchester Police, and other police forces, that they will be held to account if they fail to protect vulnerable children from exploitation and abuse.’
Harriet Wistrich, director of CWJ said, ‘the trial ten years ago was hailed as a victory, but it followed years of abject policing failures. Sadly, such failures are still prevalent across the country as highlighted in the recent publication of the IICSA inquiry into CSE by organised networks. We hope this historic victory will provide an additional spur to police forces around the country to implement effective measures to tackle this pernicious crime.”
While this settlement brings an end to the women’s legal action against the police to an end, proceedings are still ongoing as against the Crown Prosecution Service, arising from the part played by prosecutors in the unjust treatment the victims received. The three survivors are hopeful that today’s apologies from Greater Manchester Police will encourage the CPS to engage with them in a meaningful dialogue about a more victim-centred approach to child sexual abuse prosecutions. The CPS has so far denied any wrongdoing.
Harriet Wistrich, Kate Ellis (from Centre for Women’s Justice) and Maggie Oliver, will be available to answer questions following the meeting at GMP headquarters. If you wish speak with them, please contact Rick (details below) in advance if possible.
Please note the three survivors will not be giving interviews at this time.
As you'll see from the attached press release, today is a momentous day!
This is truly an enormous achievement, hard won following a draining but determined 10 year battle to win this apology from GMP for these three victims. They have all been terribly failed by Greater Manchester Police and the CPS, and it’s only through our dogged persistence, and a total refusal to give up despite countless obstacles put in our way, that we have finally won this.
But just as this is a watershed moment for the three girls themselves, so too it is a very important day for me personally.
This case was the start of a traumatic journey for me, the most difficult of my life in fact. The treatment of these (and other) victims ultimately led to me resigning from GMP in late 2012 so I could speak out publicly. That decision changed the course of my life forever and cost me an awful lot including my career, my income, my home of 30 years and ultimately my health. It sent me into a very dark place where at one point, because of the veiled ‘threats’ I received, I truly thought I would go to prison. I was told that by speaking out publicly, I was in breach of data protection legislation and hence committing criminal offences.
However, this truth had to be told, and so I made the difficult decision to speak out anyway, with the full consent of these amazing young women. And in the end, despite the unbelievable and unnecessary trauma caused to the girls, and to myself, we have turned our ‘Pain into Power’. We have been heard, and I hope this apology marks a turning point and is the start of the rest of their lives, where they can find peace, safe in the knowledge that what I told them all along has been acknowledged. They were failed. They did nothing wrong. They deserved protection. They deserved kindness and to not be ‘judged’. They were CHILDREN! Victims of not only childhood sexual abuse, but also victims of a system which just doesn’t care enough.
For me personally I have tried to turn my own pain into a positive too, firstly by writing my book ‘Survivors’ to process all my own trauma, and ensure there is a truthful record for my own children when I’m no longer here. And secondly, to set up my charity, The Maggie Oliver Foundation in an effort to support the thousands of victims who have been and continue to be failed by the police and authorities. We now have a phenomenal team of almost 40 wonderful human beings who all share my passion for justice and victim care, and if you take a look at our website www.themaggieoliverfoundation.com you can read some of the spine-tingling feedback we receive daily which powerfully explains the difference our team are making in the lives of others tragically still being failed today….
It's a journey I would not have had the courage to travel without what has been the never ending support of ordinary people like you and me, who have always been able to see just how wrong this is!
I want to say thankyou to everyone who has been part of this journey, however small your part. #Together we have achieved what once seemed impossible!
Thank you for being on the right side...."
(I'm sure you all know the harrowing story of these Rochdale victims, but if you want to know the full shocking truth then I’d suggest you read my book ‘Survivors’, or watch BBC drama Three Girls)
Please note, our team are taking a short break over Christmas as will not be checking emails regularly. We'll respond once we are back on Tuesday 3rd January. Thank you for understanding.
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