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Operation Augusta — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Graham Stringer Graham Stringer Labour, Blackley and Broughton 9:30 am, 5th February 2020

I am not sure that I have a good answer for the hon. Gentleman. Some people, such as Pauline Newman, who was in charge of children’s services at the time, have moved on. The senior police officers who took the decision to wind up operation Augusta have moved on and are not co-operating—one is not talking at all, and the other says he cannot remember. In such circumstances, when people are no longer employed by the city council or Greater Manchester police, it is difficult to know what action could be taken or by whom. However, the hon. Gentleman asks a good question. A line of accountability is needed. When one reads the report and some of the reports since, records of meetings or of attendees at those meetings are absent in some cases. That makes things difficult. However, if his point is that somebody should be held accountable, I agree with him. That is clearly right.

The final point I want to make in this sad story is that the police and Manchester City Council have said that they will improve. Today, however, Greater Manchester police have declared a “critical incident” in the introduction of their iOPS computer system, which 90% of police officers rely on to get information. The system cost £29 million and is not working. With the best will in the world, if the officers whose job it is to look into these allegations do not know what is happening, they cannot do their job. We need not only resources—more police officers—but the proper use of resources and computer systems. Currently, when I have no doubt that many perpetrators are still walking the streets of Greater Manchester and other cities, we need Greater Manchester police to do better.

This is an awful and shocking story of the failure to protect some of the most vulnerable people in the country. One of the failures, which was a mistake, is that action was not taken in some cases because the police said that the girls were not reliable witnesses. However, there have been policy statements to the effect that we do not have to rely on the victims to protect themselves in order to take the perpetrators to court. I hope that the Home Office and all the councils in the country will redouble their efforts to ensure that such activities, which I am sure still happen, are stopped.