Police apologise to sex abuse girl
Police have apologised to an underage sex abuse victim in Rochdale for failings in their initial probe into five men who exploited her "profound vulnerability".
Many of her abusers plied the troubled 15-year-old with vodka and cannabis before committing their offences, which took place in 2008 and 2009, Manchester Minshull Street Crown Court heard.
The majority of the defendants were only arrested last year after the grim portrayal of a largely Pakistani-heritage child sex ring preying on white girls in the town emerged into the public domain in a separate trial at Liverpool Crown Court which attracted huge publicity.
But one of the offenders, Congolese refugee Freddie Kendakumana, was first arrested and interviewed by Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in December 2008 after the girl - also white - complained to police he had raped her the month before.
The girl was told at the time by an interviewing male officer that it was important not to have any future dealings with Kendakumana while the investigation continued but she later confessed she had bumped into him at a flat. Soon after, she went on to have consensual sex with his friend when still aged 15, although that man knew she was underage.
In a later interview, she explained: "I spoke to the police about it. The police said don't go back there. If you go back up there, we don't have a case, so I said I won't.
"I went on to see Freddie in a flat. I didn't really speak to him, I had a drink and then came home."
The investigation against Kendakamuna, 27, was dropped before he was rearrested years later and finally charged, along with his co-defendants, in October 2012 - nearly four years after the girl made the initial complaint as several men went on to abuse her in the intervening period.
By that time the girl had undergone numerous video-recorded police interviews from the end of 2008 to October 2011, totalling more than 23 hours.
Last month Kendakumana was convicted of raping her.
Today after reporting restrictions were lifted on the case, Assistant Chief Constable Dawn Copley, of Greater Manchester Police, said: "We must acknowledge that there were some failings with the initial investigation carried out by Rochdale division into a complaint of rape by the victim in 2008.
"The suspect was arrested on suspicion of rape, but he was released without charge. The case was investigated and the officer who supervised the investigation took the decision to discontinue the case.
"In 2009 the victim in this case made a number of disclosures to the police about some of the defendants in this case.
"A decision was made to file the information gathered during this interview as intelligence and the decision was supported by the officer's line manager."
A review of the probe by GMP's sexual crime unit highlighted a number of failings, Ms Copley added.
The matter was referred to its Professional Standards Branch in March 2011 and "formal management action" was given to two officers.
The investigation has also been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
"We accept that there was more that could, and should, have been done to protect and support the victim," said Ms Copley. "We have apologised to her for the delay in dealing with her case and reiterate that apology publicly today. Once the criminal proceedings are at an end we will talk to her further about what went wrong.
"Lessons have been learnt. The education of all officers has now improved to such an extent that they now see CSE (child sexual exploitation) as part of a wider pattern of behaviour and offending. Therefore, reports of abuse are no longer taken in isolation and treated as stand-alone crimes. This new approach includes much earlier involvement with key partners such as Children's Services and the Crown Prosecution Service."
The victim was first prompted to go to the police in 2008 on the advice of a health support worker when she disclosed that Kendakumana was sexually forcing himself on her.
But social care and health professionals dealing with the youngster failed to pass on her other confessions in 2008 and 2009 that she was having consensual sexual contact with a string of older men whom she labelled "boyfriends".
In a statement, Lesley Mort, of Rochdale Council's independent safeguarding children board, said: "We are pleased with the verdict announced in this historic child sexual abuse case.
"This has been a challenging trial and we regret what the young person in this trial has had to endure but we are confident that all partner agencies are now more able to intervene earlier and more robustly when cases of concern are brought to their attention."
The victim, now aged 20, gave evidence against the defendants in two trials.
Reporting restrictions were lifted on both proceedings by Judge Jonathan Foster QC at today's conclusion of the second trial.
Last month in the first trial, Kendakumana, of Illminster, Rochdale, was convicted of rape and sexual activity with a child. He was cleared of a second count of rape.
Two other men, Mohammed Rafiq Abubaker, 25, of Freehold, Rochdale, and takeaway worker Roheez Khan, 27, of Ashfield Road, Rochdale, were found guilty of sexual activity with a child. Khan was also convicted of witness intimidation.
A fourth man, Chola Chansa, 33, of Illminster, Rochdale, pleaded guilty to sexual activity with a child just before the first trial started.
In the second trial, taxi driver Abdul Huk, 37, of Ouldfield Close, Rochdale, was found guilty yesterday of sexual activity with a child.
All five men will be sentenced on December 20.
They were all bailed but told to expect custodial sentences.
Today the jury failed to reach a verdict on Mohammed Ali, 28, of Rochdale, on an allegation of sexual activity with a child.
The jury in the first trial also failed to reach a verdict on the same allegation against Mr Ali and, as a consequence, the Crown decided not to proceed with a third trial and has asked for the matter to lie on file.
Asrar Haider, 39, of Rochdale, was cleared by the second jury of sexual activity and inciting sexual activity with a child, while another defendant, Anjam Masood, 31, from Rochdale, was cleared of sexual activity and inciting sexual activity with a child on the direction of the judge after the prosecution said it was no longer offering evidence against him.
Charges were also dropped before the first trial against a 34-year-old man who had been accused of engaging in sexual activity with the girl in a car when she was as young as 12 or 13.
In May last year, nine men were jailed for the systematic grooming and sexual abuse of five white girls - aged between 13 and 15 - in Heywood and Rochdale.
The trial at Liverpool Crown Court resulted in a national debate over the role of gangs of largely Pakistani-heritage men in grooming white girls.
A subsequent report from child safeguarding chiefs ruled that social workers, police and prosecutors had missed opportunities to stop the exploitation in Heywood and Rochdale.
Although the girl in the latest court proceedings, who is also white, was being abused at about the same time, she had no known links with any of the defendants who were jailed at Liverpool Crown Court.
The convicted defendants in the Manchester trials also came from a range of nationalities - Kendakumana and Chansa are from Congo, Abubaker is a Kurd, while Huk and Khan are believed to be of Pakistani heritage.
Several knew each other but it was not the prosecution case that they all acted in an organised manner.
Opening the case against all the defendants, prosecutor Neil Usher said: "It is the prosecution's case that leading the chaotic life that she had for some time by the age of 15, she was vulnerable to being groomed and exploited by those who correctly perceived she would be easy to flatter and impress with free and plentiful drink, cannabis and just as importantly, a level of attention and affection that she craved and felt she had lacked in her difficult early life.
"She repeatedly and regularly returned to a number of older men all of whom sexually exploited her and some of whom physically abused her, despite her being advised and supported by health care and social workers.
"The risk-taking and potentially harming positions she regularly put herself in was an indication of the extent of her profound vulnerablity and emotional immaturity."