Social workers, police and prosecutors “missed opportunities” to stop the ring abusing young girls, a report into the scandal revealed yesterday.
“Deficiencies” in the way children’s social care responded to the victims’ needs in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, were caused by “patchy” training of frontline staff, the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board (RBSCB) said in its 29-page report into child sexual exploitation (CSE).
The review comes four months after nine Asian men were convicted of the systematic grooming and sexual abuse of white girls in Heywood and Rochdale. The trial resulted in a national debate over the role of gangs of largely Asian men in grooming white girls.
The picture which emerges from the report is one of vulnerable young girls, some as young as ten, who were being targeted for sexual abuse, being written off by those in authority, who believed the girls were “making their own choices” and “engaging in consensual sexual activity”. In reality, girls were being raped and often violently beaten.
The judge who sentenced the nine men said that they treated their victims “as though they were worthless and beyond any respect”.
Richard Scorer, a solicitor for some of the girls, said it was “very likely” they would take legal action against the authorities for failing to protect them.
Mr Scorer told ITV’s Daybreak programme that the report was “very, very damning”, and he highlighted “a whole catalogue of failings, mainly by Rochdale social services”.
He said: “I think, based on the evidence in this report, it is very likely that we will be going forward with legal action.
“It is fairly unusual for social services to be sued,” he admitted. “It does happen, but it is fairly unusual.”
Asked whether the girls have been able to rebuild their lives and come to terms with what happened to them, Mr Scorer said: “Of course, they are deeply traumatised and distressed by these events, which have lasted over many years. But they want to have the opportunity to rebuild their lives, the means, the wherewithal to do that, and that, of course, is part of the reason for bringing this case.
“What they also want to see is some cultural change in social services, and hopefully the report is the first stage of that, but they want to press home that point and the legal action is part of achieving that.”
Rochdale Council said it had used the review’s findings to implement a catalogue of changes and improvements.
The report looked at how agencies, including the council, police, NHS and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), worked between 2007 and 2012 to safeguard children and young people who were at risk of sexual exploitation.
The report, which specifically followed the treatment of one 15-year-old victim, said: “While some organisations were consistently supportive in their response, overall child welfare organisations missed opportunities to provide a comprehensive, co-ordinated and timely response and, in addition, the criminal justice system missed opportunities to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
The report also said: “Activity to disrupt alleged offenders was developing on the ground, but this was not always followed through at a more senior level.
“The early investigations of crimes and the prosecution of alleged offenders were flawed.”
RBSCB chairwoman Lynne Jones said: “We have responded to this review and improvements have been implemented.”