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Police took aborted foetus without telling Rochdale grooming victim, review finds

Greater Manchester police (GMP) secretly took the aborted foetus of a 13-year-old grooming victim in order to do a DNA test without telling the girl or her parents, a highly critical review of the police and council in Rochdale has found.

The revelation is one of a series of “deplorable” failings detailed in the latest chapter of an independent assurance review into how GMP and other agencies responded to child sexual exploitation (CSE) in Greater Manchester. The 173-page review was commissioned by Andy Burnham when he was first elected as mayor in 2017 and covers the period from 2004 until 2013.

It identified at least 96 individuals who could pose a risk to children, most of whom have yet to be prosecuted. Apologising to the victims, the GMP chief constable, Stephen Watson, promised a “day of reckoning” for the men responsible who have yet to be arrested.

Other findings include:

  • When cases did reach court, GMP left the young victims to be “harassed and intimidated by the men who had previously abused them”, sometimes at gunpoint.

  • GMP took no action in the case of a 15-year-old girl who gave birth to a child of her “pimp”.

  • One child told GMP that her abusers kept girls in cages and “made them bark like a dog or dress like a baby”, but GMP took no action once she left Greater Manchester and was put in care elsewhere.

  • In an “incredible example of poor practice”, one victim, known as Amber, was herself arrested and then bailed to live with a man who had already been arrested on suspicion of grooming.

  • The Crown Prosecution Service, in consultation with GMP, decided to name Amber as a co-conspirator in the sexual exploitation of other children in a trial of her abusers, in what the authors describe as “deplorable further abuse of a CSE survivor”.

The latest review, the third of four, found “compelling evidence” of widespread organised CSE within Rochdale from 2004 onwards, much of which remained undetected because successive GMP operations were so badly under-resourced.

The report’s authors, the child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam and the former senior police officer Gary Ridgway, concluded: “Children were left at the mercy of their abusers because of an inadequate response by GMP and [Rochdale council’s] children’s social care.”

Burnham said it was “unacceptable” that five GMP officers, including an assistant chief constable, as well as the head of children’s services at Rochdale council at the time, either refused to cooperate with the review or failed to respond to a request for interview.

A GMP whistleblower, Maggie Oliver, welcomed the review but said victims in Greater Manchester and beyond were “still routinely treated badly or even inhumanely, still not believed, still judged, still dismissed when they report these horrendous crimes”.

The authors were particularly critical of how police treated a girl known as Child 44. She had an abortion at 13 in 2009 and only found out in 2011 that the foetus had been taken by police.

Officers collected the foetus from Rochdale hospital in March 2009 but took no immediate action when the DNA failed to match possible suspects in the investigation at the time.

The foetus was then placed in the freezer at Rochdale police station and forgotten about until a “routine property review” some time later. Meanwhile, the girl continued to be exploited for several years and at one point was at risk of being taken to Pakistan by her abusers.

She told the report’s authors she thought it was “disgusting” that the baby’s remains had been taken without her consent, and that police had “robbed” her.

The girl ultimately gave evidence at a 2012 trial but was “particularly distressed” that the man who impregnated her at 13 was not charged with raping her. He was given an eight-year sentence for conspiracy and trafficking for sexual exploitation, and was released on licence within four years.

Child 44 described being threatened by a man with a gun before her trial and the total absence of any protection after the trial.

She described being chased by men in cars, and bumping into her abuser in Rochdale Asda four or five years after the trial.

““I didn’t even know he was out of prison. Nobody had told me or asked me if I wanted to object to him being released. I see many of the men who abused me all the time, all around Rochdale all the time,” she said.

When the review authors asked Child 44 how police responded, she replied: “They didn’t. They just said lock your door.”

Another victim, Child Three, spoke of the devastating impact of giving evidence against her abusers.

She claimed that when pregnant with her second child she returned home to find “my house was trashed, with slag and grass written across the wall, they ripped the carpet, burned the shed down, and killed the chickens”.

The police just told her to “get out” if it happened again, she claimed. She ended up with two young children in a homeless hostel after her windows were smashed and she received threatening messages.

The review considered the allegations Sara Rowbotham, the coordinator of the crisis intervention team in Rochdale, and Oliver, a former GMP detective constable, made in the BBC documentary Betrayed Girls about child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester.

Newsam said the review found Oliver and Rowbotham’s allegations were substantiated and that “during the period covered by this review, GMP and Rochdale council failed to prioritise the protection of children who were being sexually exploited by a significant number of men within the Rochdale area”.

Rochdale council’s leader, Neil Emmott, said he was “deeply sorry” for “very serious failures” and said those responsible were “long gone”.

So far 42 men have been convicted for non-recent, multi-offender child sexual exploitation in Rochdale across six trials from 2012 to 2023.