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Operation Augusta — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:23 am on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Afzal Khan Afzal Khan Shadow Minister (Home Office) (Immigration) 10:23 am, 5th February 2020

I am grateful to my hon. Friend Graham Stringer for bringing this important issue to the House. The devastating revelations about Greater Manchester police’s Operation Augusta published last month brought home the shocking truths of institutional failure in the safeguarding of children. That damning report catalogued the failings of Greater Manchester police and Manchester City Council. It identified a grooming gang of up to 100 members in Manchester who were found to have abused at least 57 children, some as young as 12, who were all in the care of Manchester social services. That included 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia.

It is evident from the report that the attitude of the police and council at the time was dismissive. They dismissed Victoria’s account of her abuse and instead focused on her

“propensity to provide sexual favours” thereby painting her and the other girls experiencing abuse as the problem rather than the victims. The report makes for extremely difficult reading, but I welcome its publication and thank Greater Manchester’s Mayor, Andy Burnham. It is only by fully facing up to the facts and past failures that we can correct them and ensure that they cannot not happen again.

Victoria Agoglia’s family have been calling for her abuse to be investigated ever since her death. My thoughts are with them and other survivors of child sexual exploitation. No child, at any age, should be able to slip through the net in society. We have a moral duty to ensure that every child is protected from exploitation. We know all too well that what happened to Victoria Agoglia was not an isolated case. In the last 10 years, we have seen high-profile scandals across the country, from Oxford to Rochdale and Rotherham, and each time the failures of the police and social care services are plain to see.

My concern is that there are even more child sexual exploitation scandals that have not been identified. Just as Greater Manchester police is reopening its historic child sexual exploitation investigations, other cities and towns across the country should look back on theirs to ensure that no victim of abuse has been left without justice.

Thankfully, since the high-profile cases in Rotherham and Rochdale, significant changes have been made to how our institutions safeguard vulnerable children. Lessons have been learnt from historical cases, but we must never again be allowed to forget that the safety of children is paramount. That is why I, along with other Manchester MPs, wrote to the Attorney General, following the review’s publication, calling for a new inquest into the coroner’s verdict on Victoria Agoglia’s death. We are all committed to finally getting justice for Victoria, her family and all survivors of child sexual exploitation. I hope the Minister will support our request.

It is easy to say, “never again will children be subjected to abuse or sexual exploitation,” but sadly that is not within our power to dictate. All we can do is ensure that safeguarding measures for vulnerable children are absolutely watertight. Our institutions must be equipped with the knowledge and resources needed to deal effectively with safeguarding concerns when they arise. No victim should ever go through what Victoria suffered in Manchester 15 years ago. On child sexual exploitation, we must never again choose the easy path over the right path.