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Operation Augusta — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:15 am on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Chris Green Chris Green Conservative, Bolton West 10:15 am, 5th February 2020

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I congratulate Graham Stringer on securing this important and timely debate.

We remember what Operation Augusta was about: the death of Victoria Agoglia due to a drug overdose inflicted on her by a 50-year-old man. She was in care. She should have had a huge amount of support from the state, but it was not there. It is right that the review commissioned by the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, reflected on that, and it is right that we should look at the support for victims and seek to punish the criminals who were there at that time, but we should also challenge the decision makers.

Those people—people in Greater Manchester police, and social workers in Manchester City Council—made the decisions. Those people knew exactly what was going on, but they have not been challenged for their actions, whether they amount to negligence and misconduct or criminal actions. Because of the lack of challenge at the time, and the apparent lack of challenge now, we do not know where those people are. Have they been promoted elsewhere? We know they were involved in a cover-up. It seems clear to anyone who looks at this that there was a cover-up. If those people were promoted elsewhere or moved sideways, did that cover-up and that culture move with them?

A number of colleagues wrote a letter to Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, challenging him on a number of concerns in the report. I think we were all pretty disappointed at his rather supine response. He accepts that Operation Augusta stopped solely due to lack of resource, but the number of police officers in Greater Manchester police increased by more than 1,000 between 1997 and 2004-05. It had 1,000 additional police officers in that time, yet we hear there was a lack of resource.

As my hon. Friend James Daly highlighted, there were a number of live inquiries, and we know the nature of the crime committed against Victoria Agoglia, but we ought to focus on the Manchester Evening News headline, which captures so much: “A paedophile grooming gang was left to roam the streets of Manchester—and police knew who they were and exactly what they were doing”. That is what we know to be true. The people who were involved in the decision making at that time have not been held to account. I am not sure it is credible to say this is only about resources.

It is also incredible that the identity of the gold commander—the person who made the decision to end Operation Augusta—is not known. It is also incredible that, just as his or her identity is not known, the minutes from Greater Manchester police of the meeting where it was decided to end Operation Augusta have disappeared—and, by amazing coincidence, the minutes from Manchester City Council disappeared at the same time. How many people at this stage would not suspect a cover-up?

The report references successes. It has been highlighted that of the 97 individuals under scrutiny for grooming, plying children with drugs and raping children, three were imprisoned—three of 97. That is referred to in the report as a success. In no way can an objective person see Operation Augusta described as a success. It was an utter failure. Its closure was a decision by the gold commander, and in Andy Burnham’s response to our letter and his description of it, he accepts the lack of knowledge. There is no challenge and no sense of an injustice.

Data sharing is incredibly important in these matters. The Mayor watched the television programme, and he started the inquiry in September 2017. In January 2018, Greater Manchester police agreed what access the review could have to that data. In September 2018—a year after the review started—Rochdale Borough Council agreed on access, and a month after that Manchester City Council agreed on access. Considering that we are talking about the production-line rape of children, it is extraordinary that it took Rochdale and Manchester councils a year to agree access to information. This was a serious review, with serious people heading it, and it took a year to reach agreement. I do not see how anyone cannot be aghast at that.

It is a consistent feature that when the Mayor of Greater Manchester ought to be challenging what has—or has not—been done, there is silence. If council leaders or people in the councils were not handing over information or being forthcoming, he should have used not just his position as police and crime commissioner of Greater Manchester police but his public platform as Mayor of Greater Manchester to challenge them to hand it over, but he chose not to.

A huge amount of follow-up work needs to be done. The report should have been in one piece, but it has been split up because of the delays. The sense of a cover-up and everything being kicked into the long grass is clear to anyone who reads the report and the response from Andy Burnham to our letter. The Minister, in reading Andy Burnham’s response, will find he mentions throughout it his lack of ability to act. If he cannot or will not act, I call on the Government to intervene: to look at Greater Manchester police and Manchester City Council and to take action where it is needed.