Date: 24/10/2021
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Oldham, Greater Manchester: 'I tried to report abuse to police at 12 but was handed to predators and raped'

From the Sunday Mirror (at last, a Labour newspaper taking an interest.)

A girl of 12 put her trust in the hands of police after a sex attack – but was handed to predators who inflicted yet more abuse. The vulnerable youngster – tipsy and upset – was sent packing by a desk clerk who told her to accept a lift home with two men who were at the police station over motoring issues.

It was the start of an horrific ordeal in which the girl suffered more than 20 sex assaults by eight men in one night, including 15 rapes. Just one attacker was caught and today the victim is still fighting for answers – 15 years on.

The police watchdog, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, found a string of failings, yet no officers faced disciplinary action. The case now forms part of an independent probe into child sexual exploitation due to report by the end of the year – but only after the victim insisted it should be included.

Her rape nightmare unfolded on October 27, 2006, when she went to Oldham Police Station to report being molested. The vulnerable girl had been drinking cider in a churchyard in the late afternoon when a man sexually assaulted her. She sought refuge at the police station but says that before she could say why she was there a clerk dismissed her as a timewaster. 

Two men at the door offered a lift.

"The clerk said, ‘They’ve offered you a lift, go with them’. The men were being asked to produce licences for driving offences.

“I don’t know how they haven’t been identified. There must have been logs.”

The girl says the men took her to a car and took turns to sexually assault her.

They drove her to the nearby house of a man in his 40s who she says carried out a series of sex attacks before giving her money to get a bus home.

She left the house in a daze and was picked up on the next street by Shakil Chowdhury, now 54, who was posing as a taxi driver. He said: “Why are you crying? Get in and I’ll help you.”

She said: “I thought I would be safe with him. He seemed nice, I thought he’d take me home.”

But she was far from safe. There was another man in the passenger seat and the pair headed to Chowdhury’s house where three more men appeared. The girl begged to be spared but was raped 15 times by the five men. One even taunted her: “You better be careful, we’re professionals.”

Chowdhury kept her there until morning, before bundling her into a car and abandoning her 10 minutes away from his house.

The girl’s parents had called police the previous evening but it took officers four hours to respond. They were at her house when she returned. 

A doctor’s examination found she was covered in bruises, scratches and bite marks. The girl said: “They found I had injuries consistent with being raped. I gave the police my clothes then had days of video interviews. I was so shaken up.”

She described the attack in the churchyard in detail to police in the days after the incident but it was not treated as a crime. A senior detective later concluded this was “entirely proportionate”. She also gave a detailed account of abuse by the men at the station but no log was generated.

The attacker whose house she left before being picked up by Chowdhury was arrested and charged with abusing her. He absconded while on bail and has never been located. 

Chowdhury was also arrested but refused to name accomplices. He was jailed for six years after admitting six rapes. The case was closed while his accomplices were still outstanding.

Concerned that eight of her abusers were still walking the streets, the victim contacted police in 2012 to ask if there had been any progress. She applied to see records on her case and officers eventually launched a fresh investigation, codenamed Operation Solent.

Greater Manchester Police were unable to produce a “forensic strategy” for the original probe, or records to show if condoms and tissues found at the scene were examined. It revealed that, 10 months after his conviction, 22 items of evidence were returned to Chowdhury via his solicitor.

Files show a senior officer on the case wrote: “The decision to release certain items of property seems to exclude the possibility that the items may be of forensic relevance to the other unidentified suspects. The bedding and towel had not been submitted for forensic examination, however, they were returned.”

His report also revealed 24 items of evidence were destroyed in 2008, including material from Chowdhury’s car, and the contents of his bin. The officer added: “Clearly, items had been disposed of, and had they been retained from the original inquiry, then it may or may not have led to us identifying people or eliminating them.”

Operation Solent did not lead to fresh charges so the girl asked GMP to review the original case.

The victim has since made an official request to access her files, including a report written by a sexual health worker when she was 12. It says: “She is now on her third sexual partner. She has made an informed choice to remain SA [sexually active]. She has a mature attitude and looks older than her age.” The notes said there was “no indication of abuse” – despite the girl’s age. An outreach worker added: “I feel [victim] is very attention seeking and tries to get a response from me.” The girl had already been abused by a teacher who groomer her on-line, a serial abuser he was jailed in 2009 for assaults on other children. In 2015, when the girl was 21, he admitted raping and abusing her and was jailed for a further 11 years. And last year, he was given a life sentence for raping a victim in Leeds in 2005.

n 2018, GMP upheld two of the girl’s complaints, ruling that her case should not have been closed after Chowdhury’s conviction and officers should not have taken four hours to respond when she went missing. It did not ­sanction any officers so she contacted the police watchdog – the IOPC.

It ruled a further four complaints should have been upheld. The IOPC said aspects of evidence retrieval were flawed and that potentially relevant evidence was destroyed. It also ruled greater care should have taken with notebooks – which have been lost. This could give the victim grounds to sue the police under the Data Protection Act. The IOPC advised one officer should receive further training.

Going forward, the girl’s case will be examined in the independent probe into child sexual exploitation [CSE] in Oldham. Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham commissioned the investigation as part of a wider inquiry into CSE across Manchester.

The Oldham probe will examine claims agencies were aware of abuse but “failed to respond appropriately to safeguard children and subsequently covered up these failings”.

Gerard Jones, managing director for children and young people at Oldham council, said: “There were times when vulnerable people did not receive help they should expect and deserve. Things have improved significantly in recent years. We were, and are, determined not to shy away from issues, but to gain fresh, honest and independent insight, and learn lessons.”

The wider Manchester probe is also looking at Rochdale abuse – the basis of the BBC drama Three Girls. (the gang who still have not been deported back to Pakistan after serving their sentences; they remain free to glare at their victims in the local branch of Asda with impunity.)

 


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