Op­er­a­tion Au­gusta ‘flawed from the start’

Manchester Evening News - - NEWS / CHILD-GROOMING SCANDAL -

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.”

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