In Manchester, the Local Authorities failed the most vulnerable in life and in death. We demand better, and they should deliver.

A recent report reviewing the impact and implementation of Operation Augusta has found systematic and harrowing failures by public authorities in Manchester to protect children under their care. The report makes for extremely disturbing reading, not only in terms of the abuse suffered by those who were failed by the very people who should have been protecting them, but the fact this was allowed to happen at all should weigh heavily on everybody’s minds. How could it be that despite numerous alerts, reports and flagging of concerns that this horrific abuse and exploitation was allowed to continue? Those responsible must be held to account.

Take the utterly shocking case of Victoria Agoglia. Victoria alerted the people she perceived to be in charge of her welfare to the fact she was being abused, injected with heroin, sexually exploited and raped to the extent she required medical attention, yet these same individuals responsible for her protection did nothing. There was no protection investigation required by Section 47 Children Act 1989 commissioned to shield her from further harm, and her pleas went unheard, unnoticed and ignored.

Not only was Victoria failed in life, but the Coroner responsible for the investigation after she tragically took her own life aged just 15 concluded that:

“There was no breach of the Authority’s protective duties under Article 2. There is no evidence of a gross failure to meet Victoria’s needs that would have had a significant bearing on her death.”

There is no evidence of a gross failure to meet Victoria’s needs that would have had a significant bearing on her death. This may be naïve, but in what reality do the repeated failures to listen to a vulnerable child reporting instances of their own abuse and exploitation not have “a significant bearing on [their] death”? This is a fundamental misunderstanding of how exploitation occurs, and how authorities need to be vigilant to any signs of abuse occurring under their watch, and not just abuse that meets an arbitrary threshold constituting a “gross failure”.

Not only did the Coroner err in his review of the responsibility of the Authorities, but the attitude shown towards the events preceding Victoria’s death shine a light on how victims of sexual exploitation are viewed by those who lack a true understanding of the issue.

“Whilst the Local Authority and other agencies could and should have anticipated Victoria’s propensity to abscond (and return), consume alcohol, abuse drugs, mix with inappropriate individuals and provide sexual favours this knowledge and these acts would not in my view amount to a real and immediate risk to life.”

Victoria’s so-called “propensity to abscond” paints her ordeal in such a way as to propagate the idea that victims of exploitation are in some way responsible for the abuse and violence they suffer at the hands of others. It is immaterial that Victoria may or may not have felt the need to leave and return to the premises in which she was a resident. She was a child under the care of the Local Authority. They should have protected her, and investigated her claims as soon as they were made aware, regardless of whether she was physically present for one hour, or one month. Exploitation functions in a cyclical manner, and it is highly plausible that Victoria was unable to break this cycle by not repeatedly “absconding”. But, this is irrelevant. Her protection should not be predicated on her whereabouts at a particular time of the day. This should have alerted the Authorities, and with due respect to the Coroner, it clearly was “a real and immediate risk to life” as Victoria took her own life shortly after.

Several people should be recognised for their repeated attempts to raise these issues with the relevant Authorities, not least Maggie Oliver and Sara Rowbotham, who have consistently tried to highlight the systematic failures by Authorities here and elsewhere. But the protection of the most vulnerable in society should not only depend on the moral courage of individuals who are willing to go against their superiors and highlight the failures of the institutions they work for.

Those in charge within the Authorities should be held to account in the moral sense, if not legally. There is no amount of PR spin that can paint this abject failure on the most fundamental level in a positive light. Due to the failures of the Local Authorities and of the individuals charged with protecting those who so desperately need it, numerous children were repeatedly abused, exploited, raped and drugged. There is, simply put, nothing they could say or do that could possibly make up for this tragic course of events. The only thing that can be done now is to hold them to account, and to ensure that this never, ever occurs again.. CEASE UK calls upon the Local Authorities to face up to the reality of this horrific tragedy and ensure that reports of child sexual exploitation are always taken with the utmost seriousness and swift response.’