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Operation Augusta — [Sir Christopher Chope in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:34 am on 5th February 2020.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:34 am, 5th February 2020

I thank Graham Stringer for setting the scene. I respect him for bringing this sensitive and distressing topic to the attention of the House. I remember the BBC documentary being aired and the girls in the office discussing it in terms of shock, anger and distress. The years have passed, but when I read the assurance review of Operation Augusta, I remained shocked, angered and distressed.

I will not go into the individual cases reported in the document, which hon. Members have referred to, but I highlight the fact that these are not simply cases or numbers: they are the lives of young girls, their families and, in some cases, their children. Those lives have been ruined, a community has been torn to shreds and authorities, even now, at this late stage, must take a long, hard look at the way things have been done. Their inaction has led to loss of life and the destruction of many lives.

Sometimes a series of events merge to create a perfect storm. Without one of the elements present, the storm could not take place. This was not a perfect storm of aligned, mutually exclusive events; this was a series of authorities, and the individuals working for them, simply not acting to protect these vulnerable girls. Different factors played into that: some people did not have the time or resources to do more than nod towards good practice, while others were frightened of rocking the boat, seeming racist or stirring racial tension. Whatever the underlying reason, the result was at least one death and thousands of instances of unaccountable abuse. That is truly unforgivable.

Through my work as an elected representative, I have tried to help a lady who was dreadfully abused as a child and used in the same way as these girls. Her scars are apparent and she has no peace. She cannot get over what happened to her and the lack of justice for those unpunished crimes. The same has happened on a wide scale to these girls. They must not be wandering around at the age of 40, still dealing with the trauma of what happened, without help or support, and with no one saying that it was unacceptable.

In my opinion, the report has been commissioned not only to prevent these things from happening again, in any town, in any local authority and in any way, but to send a message to these girls that a price has been paid, that notice has been taken and that the hurt they suffer will not go unanswered.