Exclusive: Arrests made in a major new Rochdale grooming investigation

The Mill learned about the probe this week

Good morning. Last weekend we published The Ghosts of Rochdale - a piece examining the prosecution of the town’s grooming gangs. Today we can report a significant new development in the scandal - one that is likely to drag Rochdale and its dark history of sexual abuse back into the national spotlight.

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Greater Manchester Police have arrested multiple men suspected of sexual abuse as part of a major new investigation into grooming gangs in Rochdale, The Mill has learned. Operation Lytton, the existence of which has not been reported in the media before, is focusing on the sexual exploitation of teenagers that took place almost two decades ago.

The police confirmed the existence of Lytton and said a number of arrests have already taken place. “This is a complex criminal investigation into non-recent abuse committed in Rochdale between 2002 and 2006,” a spokesperson said. They added: “Due to the sensitivities associated with offences of this nature, victims are at the forefront of our investigation and it would be inappropriate to release any further information at this time.”

The time period mentioned by the police is striking. It suggests detectives have won the cooperation of a different set of victims in Rochdale. It’s long been known that there was a group of teenagers who were befriended and abused by older men starting in the early 2000s, and whose stories came to the attention of the authorities before the cases depicted in the BBC drama Three Girls. The earlier teenagers came from a different part of Rochdale but are thought to have experienced similar types of abuse by gangs of men. They are now likely to be in their their late twenties and early thirties.

Three Girls told the story of a teenager known as Girl A and two others, who were groomed and sexually assaulted by a large number of men, most of whom came from the Pakistani community in Rochdale. Nine of their abusers were convicted in 2012, in a trial that attracted protests from the far-right and huge media attention. Nineteen more men were convicted in 2016 and 2017, after a two year investigation called Operation Doublet, a “sweeping up” probe based on new leads thrown up by the trial.

Nazir Afzal, the former CPS chief prosecutor in the North West, welcomed the news about Operation Lytton. “I have always said justice delayed is better than justice denied so I very much welcome GMP’s investigation into non recent child sexual abuse in Rochdale,” he told The Mill. “What we dealt with in 2012 was merely the tip of a national iceberg which agencies didn’t see coming. Now they must continue to put right their earlier wrongs.” In his new book, Afzal writes at length about how teenagers in Rochdale were failed for years by police, social workers and prosecutors.

A BBC investigation broadcast this week by File on 4 suggested that police were actively investigating sexual abuse in Rochdale. The programme interviewed a woman known as “Daisy”, who had links to the teenagers depicted in Three Girls but says her own abusers have never been brought to justice. “Daisy” says a senior detective visited her home earlier this year and tried to persuade her to speak to police. She declined to do so because she and two other women from Rochdale felt let down by police in the past. They have initiated a civil action against GMP and the CPS for the way they have been treated.

Kate Ellis, a solicitor from the Centre for Women’s Justice who is bringing the case on behalf of the girls, told The Mill: “We hope that any victims who make the incredibly brave decision to provide evidence to Operation Lytton will not face the same appalling treatment from the police and CPS that our clients faced, not so many years ago. For them, sadly, it is too little too late.”

The news about Lytton means that grooming gangs and the question of how society turned a blind eye to the widespread abuse of vulnerable teenagers is set to become a major talking point again in the year ahead. A review commissioned by Andy Burnham into how the authorities responded to reports of child exploitation is due later this year. GMP are also currently investigating similar historic patterns of abuse in South Manchester, which were identified by Operation Augusta in 2004 but weren’t properly followed up at the time. That investigation is called Operation Green Jacket and has been public for some time.

Depending when charges are announced as a result of that investigation and arising from Lytton, the increased focus on this particular crime could have political implications, given how the far-right has exploited the issue in the past. Postponed local elections are expected to be held across the country in May next year, including in Rochdale and Manchester.

Here is the full statement GMP provided to The Mill about Operation Lytton:

OP Lytton is one of a number of ongoing major investigations into child sexual exploitation across Greater Manchester.  This is a complex criminal investigation into non-recent abuse committed in Rochdale between 2002 and 2006. Detectives are working alongside partners to provide a multi-agency response to safeguarding victims and providing them with the most suitable support, whilst identifying and bringing offenders to justice. A number of arrests and interviews have already taken place and the investigation continues. Due to the sensitivities associated with offences of this nature, victims are at the forefront of our investigation and it would be inappropriate to release any further information at this time.”

We will follow this story closely as it develops.


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