By Charlotte Green, Local Democracy Reporter
Greater Manchester Police has confirmed it will ‘progress’ investigations into child sexual exploitation in Oldham ahead of the publication of an independent review.
In November last year Oldham Council and the Oldham Safeguarding Partnership commissioned a review from the Mayor of Greater Manchester into allegations circulating online about abuse in the borough.
These chiefly concern ‘shisha bars, taxi companies and children’s homes’, according to the terms of reference for the investigation.
At a council meeting last month, it was confirmed the review is examining evidence from as far back as 2006 and as recently as 2017.
Malcolm Newsam, a former commissioner for social care in Rotherham, and Gary Ridgway, a former Detective Superintendent of Cambridgeshire Police, were appointed to head up the review team and they are now working to finalise their report.
They were the duo behind the blistering report into Operation Augusta, published at the beginning of the year, which looked at the handling of child sexual exploitation (CSE) by the police and social services in Manchester.
An email exchange between Liberal Democrat opposition group leader Councillor Howard Sykes and Assistant Chief Constable (ACC) Mabs Hussain, seen by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, states that a police operation has already been set up to look at the allegations in Oldham.
Cllr Sykes had written to ACC Hussain asking for confirmation that if evidence of CSE was identified in the review that the force would ‘relentlessly investigate’ any allegations, either historical or contemporaneous.
ACC Hussain confirmed that GMP has established Operation Hexagon under the command of Assistant Chief Constable Nick Bailey as gold commander to work with the review into the historic allegations.
“The safeguarding of vulnerable victims was treated as a priority, and this involved ensuring that any criminality that was identified, past or present was investigated and where the evidence allowed these have been placed before the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration,” he wrote.
“The GMP investigations have not been limited by parameters and have increased throughout the duration of our enquiries.
“Clearly, we will need to wait for the publication of the report to fully understand any wider implications and will ensure the appropriate organisational response to matters disclosed is put in place.
“I hope you will be reassured through the Operation which has already been established by ACC Bailey that any matters which are disclosed as part of the independent review are being progressed by Greater Manchester Police prior to any formal publication.”
Following the email exchange, GMP issued a further comment about Operation Hexagon.
ACC Nick Bailey said: “Following reports of correspondence between Councillor Howard Sykes and ACC Hussain, I would like to make further comment, which may help to clarify certain points and prevent inaccurate speculation.
“In August 2019 Op Hexagon was established by Greater Manchester Police, as the policing response to work already on-going between Greater Manchester Police and Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council, and has acted as the joint Gold Group for both police and council activity.
“This related to allegations that had been made on social media, concerning a range of issues involving named individuals.
“Those initial allegations did involve concerns of child welfare and safeguarding, but also a number of other allegations of criminal activities.
“Due to this, GMP therefore broadened the scope of the investigation to include any and all allegations of criminality.
“As the Gold lead for the operation I have been keen to ensure that any and all allegations of criminal activity are investigated – primarily to ensure that potential victims immediately receive the appropriate support, but also recognising the wider public interest.
“I can say that Op Hexagon remains on-going, where the evidence threshold for identified criminal offences has been met they have been referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, to date this has not included any offences relating CSE or the safeguarding of any children.
“As part of Operation Hexagon we have been supportive of the independent inquiry requested by Oldham council, managed by the Deputy Mayor.”
The assurance review will specifically consider allegations of historic abuse that have been made on social media involving shisha bars, taxi companies and children’s homes.
This will include the ‘nature and extent to which adults had inappropriate access to children and young people resident in children’s homes in Oldham putting them at risk of harm’.
It will also look at the extent to which historical actions and employment records have been ‘adequately investigated’ in the case of ‘known offenders’ previously employed within Oldham public services.
It is understood this relates to jailed Rochdale grooming leader Shabir Ahmed, who worked at Oldham Council until the mid-2000s.
The framework of the review says ‘particular reference’ will be made to concerns that statutory agencies were ‘aware of this abuse, failed to respond appropriately to safeguard the children and subsequently covered up these failings’.
Once the review team’s report is completed it will be published by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority.