It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I thank Graham Stringer for securing the debate. My thoughts, like those of other hon. Members, are with the family of Victoria Agoglia and the other 25 victims identified in the recently published review, who were so tragically let down, as well as with the many for whom suffering is ongoing.
While the terms of reference of the Operation Augusta assurance review, commissioned by Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, indicated its intention to be a forward-facing exercise, the comments on the failures to protect Victoria are damning. Chapter 2.11 sets that out clearly, leaving no doubt that
“Victoria Agoglia was exposed to the most profound harm, at least from the age of 13. Her exposure to sexual exploitation by adult males was known to police and social services and, despite the risk of significant harm caused by the men who were sexually exploiting her, statutory child protection procedures, which should have been deployed to protect her, were not utilised”.
The report is set out as an assurance review, yet, from a sample of 25 children, there are no assurances. In the case of Victoria and 15 others, where there was
“significant probability of child sexual abuse”,
the report gave “no assurance” that that had been appropriately addressed by Greater Manchester police or Manchester City Council.
Those young schoolgirls were known to be being abused. They were not being protected from harm, and yet the investigation, Operation Augusta, which commenced following the death of Victoria in September 2003, was summarily and prematurely closed down on
In the light of the review, I joined other Greater Manchester MPs and co-signed a letter, sent by my hon. Friend Chris Green, to the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham. I hope to hear reassurance that people who see failings and neglect can bring them to light and challenge the system without fear. It takes incredible bravery to be a whistleblower, but it should not. People who speak out and highlight negligence and misconduct can save lives—people such as Maggie Oliver and Sara Rowbotham, whose actions were instrumental in exposing the failure to protect children and led to the opening of the investigation.
Many whistleblowers who fight uphill battles to get justice for victims too often find themselves becoming the target of retaliation and unfounded allegations to undermine their actions.