Discover more from The Mill
Major sex abuse report finds serious failings in Oldham - but no evidence of a cover-up
'There is no basis for that allegation. We are very clear about that. We have literally looked at thousands and thousands of documents'
Dear Millers — this morning we got up early and went to the offices of the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to read the 200-page review into child sexual exploitation in Oldham, which was finally released today after months of waiting.
The review is damning about a series of failures by the council and the police, including the horrifying case of a 12-year-old girl raped by multiple men in 2006. But the report’s authors say they found no evidence of a cover-up of abuse by politicians in Oldham, the allegation that has dominated politics in the borough for two years now. They told us the overall level of abuse they uncovered in Oldham was not especially high compared to other areas and was on a “completely different” scale to what happened in towns like Rotherham and Rochdale. We’ve got the key findings below.
Also in today’s briefing: our forecast is predicting “plenty of warm sunshine” this week, we’re following an interesting discussion online about whether Manchester is a “city soaked in performative masculinity”, and we’ve got a great piece about an American actor on a mission to save his ancestral home, Hopwood Hall in Middleton.
At the weekend, to mark our 2nd birthday, Joshi, Dani and Jack each penned personal stories about their journeys with The Mill so far. A warm welcome to the 12 new members who joined after reading that. “More power to your elbow,” tweeted longtime Miller and Cambridge professor Diane Coyle, and Vaughan Allen from the Business Improvement District said: “The Mill has become such an important part of the city.” Please do share the post on Facebook or on Twitter.
🥂 Don’t forget, it’s our second birthday bash on Wednesday, our first members’ event of the year. We’ll be taking over the Anthony Burgess Foundation for drinks and a mill-shaped cake baked by Mollie. The event will be an opportunity to meet other Millers and hear some insights from our writers about big stories they worked on. Please note this is a members-only event. Book your tickets now.
And if you’re not a member yet, just join now by clicking the button below.
This week’s weather
Our local weather man Martin Miles has some good news for the week ahead, “mostly with plenty of warm sunshine and pleasantly warm temperatures.”
Tuesday: ⛅️ Warm and dry with sunny spells. Cloud will increase from the north later in the afternoon. Winds will be light. Max 22°c.
Wednesday: 🌤 Fine once again with warm temperatures and sunny spells. Max 22°c.
Thursday: ⛅️ Warm with hazy spells of sunshine. Locally very warm. Max 24°c.
Friday: 🌦 Mostly dry aside from a few showers. Still warm but cloudier than previous days. 21°c
Weekend: 🌦 Low pressure is likely, bringing a cooler and showery weekend.
You can find the latest forecast at Manchester Weather on Facebook. Daily forecasts are published at 6.15am.
The big story: A moment of reckoning in Oldham
Top line: An independent review into child sexual abuse in Oldham has uncovered “serious failings” in how some cases were handled, but could find no evidence of a council cover-up.
The review, which was undertaken by child protection specialist Malcolm Newsam CBE and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway, firmly rejects the allegation — promoted for years by Raja Miah and others — that politicians in Oldham turned a blind eye to grooming. It says:
The review team found no evidence either through interviews or documentary review to suggest senior managers or councillors sought to cover-up the existence of CSE [child sexual exploitation]... nor was there widespread CSE in residential settings, in shisha bars or in the local taxi trade.
Asked by The Mill at a press conference this morning whether the level of child abuse in Oldham was unusually high, Greater Manchester Police’s chief constable Stephen Watson said it was “not atypical”, but said a criminal investigation called Operation Sherwood has been launched as a result.
Newsam agreed that the numbers were "very typical" compared to other local authorities around the country, and added:
Oldham was at least aware of them, they were monitoring them, and they were putting in place the policies and the procedures to tackle that prevalence. So in that sense, we give credit to Oldham Council, as did Ofsted at the time.
Context: Newsom and Ridgway are the same pair who reviewed Operation Augusta in 2020, a review which was highly critical of Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police. This “assurance review” into Oldham followed a request by the then-leader of Oldham Council, and it mostly focuses on the years 2011 to 2014, the period in which a cover-up had allegedly taken place.
During that period, the council “did everything possible to publicise the threat of child sexual exploitation” and was “seen as being ahead of other local authorities” on the issue. But, this often didn’t translate into adequate protection for children. Among the serious failings identified were:
A woman referred to as ‘Sophie’, who was raped by multiple men as a 12-year-old in 2006, was badly let down by both the council and the police. "Significant opportunities missed by children's social care" to protect her.
Serious failings by the council and the police were identified in the case of Rochdale groomer Shabir Ahmed, who worked for Oldham Council from 1988 to 2006 and was seconded to a local Pakistani community centre. In 2012 he was found guilty of two rapes and a series of other serious offences.
While the council and police officers tried to protect at-risk children, the plans they put in place "were generally weak and unspecific" and in meetings, they regularly used phrases like "putting herself at risk" despite evidence that children were being drugged or made senseless by alcohol.
A “small number” of Oldham taxi drivers were accused or found guilty of sexual offences against children. The council should have revoked one of the driver’s licenses.
The case of ‘Sophie’: The report’s most shocking section relates to the woman referred to as Sophie, whose case was first reported by the Mirror last year. Two men have been prosecuted for the abuse she suffered, which happened well before the years the review was set up to look at, but was included after she raised her case with Andy Burnham in 2019. The council tried to hide its earlier failings in her case, a “lack of candour” which drew sharp criticism from the authors of the review.
Raja Miah, the activist whose lurid claims about Labour politicians ignoring child abuse from Asian grooming gangs in order to secure Asian votes, ended up not engaging with the review process after insisting that his interview with the authors be live-streamed and held in public. The investigators rejected this condition because of the sensitivity of discussing potential victims and perpetrators.
The “dossier” of evidence Miah claims to have about grooming gangs in Oldham was not handed over, the authors told us.
Asked if there was any evidence to back up Miah’s key allegation about a cover-up, Newsam said: “There is no basis for that allegation. We are very clear about that. We have literally looked at thousands and thousands of documents".
Gary Ridgway, a former senior police officer who co-authored the report, told The Mill that he and Newsam did find some of the same kind of abuse that occurred in Rotherham, where Ridgway previously worked for the council after the town’s abuse scandal, but said the case numbers in Oldham were much lower. “The issues are the same as Rotherham but the scale was completely different,” he told us.
He added that in Rotherham he found officials who felt they couldn’t blow the whistle for fear of being accused of being racist. “We had none of that in Oldham. My judgement would be that it’s apples and pears.”
Ridgway added: “There’s nothing that I’ve come across, and I think I would have done, to suggest it was on the same scale as Rotherham”.
Andy Burnham, responding to the report, said: "There were serious failings and victims were let down, particularly Sophie. Whilst there was no evidence of a cover-up, we must not flinch from acknowledging shortcomings.”
Go deeper on the Oldham CSE report:
For a detailed (and notably more critical) write-up, head to the MEN.
Follow our twice-weekly podcast to go deeper on this story later in the week, including our interview with Gary Ridgway, and our analysis of the report.
Home of the week
This spacious and modern 4-bedroom house in Salford is close to the hospital and would make a lovely family home. It’s on the market for £500,000.
Your Mill news briefing
Transport for Greater Manchester is asking passengers to avoid travelling by train tomorrow, Thursday and Saturday, after the RMT announced three days of national rail strikes this week. This morning Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury, called for “public-sector pay discipline,” ruling out a pay increase in line with inflation for teachers, NHS staff and civil servants, who are also considering strike action. In the case of this week's rail strike, Clarke doesn't expect a last-minute deal to avert the disruption. TfGM will be operating additional Metrolink services to create extra capacity.
Richard Arnold, the CEO of Manchester United, went to meet fans at a local pub over the weekend to stop them from protesting outside his home. This effort at everyman diplomacy won plaudits, apart from the fact that it was secretly filmed. During the meeting, now posted on social media, Arnold said United had "burned through cash," and that last season had been a "nightmare”.
A new block is set to be added to HMP Hindley, a prison in Wigan, as part of the government’s prison expansion programme. The government predicts the UK prison population will increase by nearly 20,000 by the mid-2020s. The prison’s expansion has had lots of opposition in the past from penal reformers. You can read about our coverage of that here.
Renaker has been granted approval to build Manchester's first city-centre school in nearly 20 years. The 236-pupil primary school will be built on Crown Street, with construction expected to begin this August and be completed in 2024.
Greater Manchester’s towns got a nod as great places to invest in the Sunday Times. Prestwich got a mention alongside Rochdale and Macclesfield as areas attracting residents out of the “increasingly corporate” city centre. Stockport was noted as ahead of the pack in this regard.
Our favourite reads
Ambient punk and sexism in Manchester with CURRENTMOODGIRL — Salt Magazine
We enjoyed this interview with “ambient punk” artist Greta Carroll (aka CURRENTMOODGIRL) who grew up in Whalley Range and whose comments elicited some interesting responses online. “I don’t feel welcome in Manchester, really. I think it’s not really seen as being a female place,” she says in the interview. “I really wonder about who got copied and who got forgotten. These women who were making music in the 90s, but just wouldn’t have been able to put anything out." On Twitter, one person responded by saying: “Manchester is a city soaked in performative masculinity. It's very apparent if you've lived elsewhere.” Another tweeter agreed: “The valorisation of the Manc swagger whether in doggerel poetry or worship of 90s pub bands IS very male. Public spaces are very male-dominated.”
‘Downton Shabby’: A Commoner Takes on an English Castle — The New York Times
We thought this was a brilliant piece about an LA actor Hopwood DeePree who decided to save his ancestral home Hopwood Hall in Middleton, after trawling through a genealogy website one day. “That fateful evening, he saw a link to a story about a Lord Hopwood of Hopwood Hall and an old black-and-white photo of a very stately home in Middleton, England, just outside Manchester. Increasingly curious, Mr. DePree made some email inquiries and booked a flight to see firsthand the family seat.”
‘Killer’ of Agnes Wanjiru still at large while army drags feet — The Sunday Times
Greater Manchester-based hacks Hannah Al-Othman and David Collins recently won the prestigious Paul Foot Award for their sensational reporting on the death of a 21-year-old Kenyan sex worker who was allegedly killed by a member of the British army in 2012. In their recent follow-up piece, they write: ”In October, a former soldier of the Duke of Lancaster Regiment, headquartered in the northwest of England, contacted Lancashire police to say he was shown Agnes’s body by her alleged killer.”
The superhero plumber who keeps his community warm — The Guardian
As the cost of living crisis continues to bite, we wanted to reshare this piece about James Anderson, the founder of Depher, which offers free or heavily subsidised heating and plumbing services. He recently received a “special recognition” in this year’s Pride of Manchester Awards for his work. He says: “I’ve been on the holidays, had the nice car and eaten in the fancy restaurants. I don’t need to experience those again. It’s my pleasure and duty to help those who are less well-off.”
Our to do list
🎭 Interactive theatre project by Oldham Theatre Workshop “You Stand Accused” wants to inspire and educate young people on how to confront hate crime and hate speech in their communities. Info here.
🌋 Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society is hosting a fascinating talk at Cross Street Chapel about volcanoes and how new 3D imaging techniques are enabling scientists to look inside them. Starts 7pm. Book here.
🐛 Something a bit more unusual, but if you have experience in recording invertebrates, then head over to Rindle Moss at 10am. All experience levels are welcome, but sessions are not guided. Book here.
🎶 The children of Tameside will be performing alongside the Hallé Orchestra at special event “Come and Play with The Hallé”. Arrangements will be a mix of famous classics and material written by Hallé’s education director Steve Pickett. Starts 1.30pm. Book here.
🚶♀️ People’s History Museum is hosting a special walk through the museum’s main galleries for Refugee Week. You will hear the stories of people who came to seek sanctuary here in Manchester. Starts 11am. Book here.
🐟 Treat yourself to a seafood dinner in Chorlton at The Oystercatcher. Some delicious options include black sea bream, seabass, and a swordfish kebab. Book here.
🖼 There’s an interesting exhibition at Saul Hay Fine Art Gallery called “Legacy”, which is inspired by the lifestyle and understanding of “a new way of life” in post-war Britain. Info here.
☕ Drop in
As journalists, it’s important that we meet the people and communities we serve and write about. If you have a story or some information you’d like to share in confidence, do come into our office on St Ann’s Square for a cup of tea. You can find us at:
The Mill, 537 Royal Exchange, Old Bank Street, Manchester, M2 7DH. We are on the fifth floor.
If the city centre’s too far for a visit, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org or send tip-offs to the address above. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with sensitivity.
Letters to the editor
I am getting so much pleasure at the emergence of The Mill (‘Nerves, dreams and proving the doubters wrong’) from an idea to a vulnerable infant to a boisterous adolescent. May you overcome the hormone rush and continue on your progress into the unknown. Tudor, Stockport
Congratulations on your second anniversary (‘Nerves, dreams and proving the doubters wrong’). Here's to another year of reading great stories at The Mill. Anne, Birmingham