Operation Augusta ‘flawed from the start’
BY the time it was axed, Operation Augusta had amassed details of nearly 100 ‘persons of interest’, a network of older predominantly Pakistani men suspected to be using takeaway premises in south Manchester as a base to abuse young girls in the care system.
But the short-lived operation that followed, the review finds, had ‘fundamental’ flaws in its resourcing from the start.
Its small team – several of whom were not trained detectives, while others were having to juggle the investigation with other cases – initially couldn’t even find space in a police station, eventually being placed at a syndicate in Wythenshawe.
The senior investigating officer was also keenly aware of the Operation Cleopatra investigation in the late 1990s, a probe into abuse in care homes that had become much larger than expected. He ‘knew of Cleopatra and wanted to put tight constraints on the operation so it didn’t balloon out of control’, one detective constable on the operation told the review.
The SIO conceded that the Augusta’s terms of reference ‘were kept deliberately tight and focused on a precise number of victims, due to the scale of the task and resources available’.
So even during the course of the operation proper, efforts were being made to limit the number of victims in its scope. Even so, missing children were being interviewed and intelligence gathered ‘meticulously’, according to one officer on the team.
And then, in April 2005, while the late Michael Todd was Chief Constable, a decision was made to abruptly close it. The review – despite requesting detailed information from Greater Manchester Police – was unable to identify who had taken the decision.
It was only able to find a brief log by the SIO about the axing of Augusta, dated April 22, 2005, at a meeting of gold command.
“Update of operation given,” it said. “Press strategies discussed, and group informed of finishing date of operation namely 1/7/05.”
It did not list which senior officers were at the meeting, if any.
Senior officers on Augusta who were invited to speak to the review team – including three detective superintendents and a chief superintendent – chose only to respond in writing, with one declining to respond directly at all.
One Det Supt, who was also in charge of the force’s public protection unit at the time, claimed he was ‘unable to recall’ any details of the operation, despite a more junior detective recounting ‘numerous face-toface conversations’ about it and him having been ‘part of the force tasking group involved in the decision to appoint a major incident team to the operation’.
The closure of Augusta on July 1, 2005, was effectively the end of police inquiries into a suspected 100-strong Manchester paedophile ring for the best part of 15 years.
Officer Margaret Oliver would go on to be a key figure in the uncovering of the Rochdale grooming scandal, would not let Augusta lie – because she believed it was a pretty much a carbon copy.
Before she resigned from the force in 2011, she says she found it impossible to track down the records of interviews she had personally done with victims.
“How strange they’ve all gone astray,” she told the M.E.N. “There were hours and hours of interviews.”