A Westminster Hall debate on 'Operation Augusta' has been scheduled for Wednesday 5 February 2020 from 9.30-11.00am. The debate has been initiated by Graham Stringer MP.
Operation Augusta was a police and social services investigation into child sexual exploitation in South Manchester.
It was launched following the death of 15 year old Victoria Agoglia, who had been in the care of Manchester City Council since she was eight. Victoria died in 2003 after being injected with heroin by a 50 year old man at his home. During her time in care police and social services were aware that Victoria was exposed to sexual exploitation by adult men, and shortly before her death she had told social and drugs workers that she was being injected with heroin.
The first phase of Operation Augusta was launched by Greater Manchester Police in February 2004. It was initially conducted as a scoping exercise. The investigation identified 25 potential victims of child sexual exploitation. All were girls aged between 11 and 17, and all were in the care of Manchester City Council.
The investigation also identified 97 potential 'persons of interest' thought to be involved in some way in the sexual exploitation of the victims. Intelligence suggested that these were predominantly Asian men working in the restaurant industry.
Following the scoping phase, Operation Augusta moved to a full investigative phase in June 2004. The investigation was run on a multi-agency basis with Manchester City Council social services. By the time the investigation concluded at least 57 children had been identified as potential victims.
In April 2005, senior police notified the investigation team that permanent staff were not being allocated to Operation Augusta and that the operation would conclude on 1 July 2005.
Operation Augusta ultimately led to seven men being warned, charged or convicted in relation to child abduction and sex offences. One further man had been identified as an illegal immigrant.
In July 2017, the BBC broadcast The Betrayed Girls, a documentary about child sexual exploitation in Greater Manchester. This led the Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, to commission child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway to conduct an independent review of the response to child sexual exploitation across Greater Manchester.
Part one of the review involved examining Operation Augusta and the decision to close it. A report on the review’s findings was published in January 2020: see Part One: An assurance review of Operation Augusta.
The report criticised the initial police and social services response to Victoria Agoglia’s case. It concluded that although her exposure to sexual exploitation was known to the authorities, statutory child protection procedures were not deployed to protect her. The report also found no evidence that the risk to Victoria's life posed by the heroin injections was "appropriately escalated".
The report concluded that the scoping phase of Operation Augusta had delivered its objectives successfully, and that detectives had “built up a compelling picture of the systematic exploitation of looked after children in the care system in the city of Manchester”.
The report also said that there was much to commend in the investigative phase, particularly the decision to allocate a major incident team and to develop a joint protocol with social services.
However, there were “fundamental flaws in how Operation Augusta was resourced”, which had a negative impact on the investigation. The decision to close Operation Augusta was driven “by the decision by senior officers to remove the resources from the investigation rather than a sound understanding that all lines of enquiry had been successfully completed or exhausted”.
The review examined a sample of 25 children identified as potential victims Operation Augusta. It concluded that there was “a significant probability” that 16 of those children were being sexually exploited, but it could not offer “any assurance that this was appropriately addressed by either Greater Manchester Police or the responsible local authority”.
In a statement, Assistant Chief Constable Mabs Hussain acknowledged that the authorities had “fallen short” of doing all they could to protect the victims identified by Operation Augusta. He said that Greater Manchester Police had referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct to determine whether there are any conduct matters which require investigation.
It has also launched Operation Green Jacket, which is reviewing historic cases of child sexual exploitation (including that of Victoria Agoglia). Chief Constable Ian Hopkins has indicated that the investigation is working with 53 potential victims.
Joanne Roney, Chief Executive of Manchester City Council, also apologised that not enough had been done to protect the children involved in Operation Augusta.
A group of Greater Manchester MPs has written to Andy Burnham asking further questions on Operation Augusta, and questioning whether criminal, misconduct or negligence charges will be brought against individuals from the police or social services.
In response to a recent parliamentary question on Operation Augusta, the Government said that it intends to publish a "comprehensive national strategy to tackle all forms of child sexual exploitation in early 2020" (Offences Against Children: Criminal Investigation: Written Question HL431).
Commons Debate packs CDP-2020-0023
Author: Sally Lipscombe