Adjournment Debate: Jim McMahon MP – Child sexual exploitation and safeguarding in Oldham

Screenshot 2022-07-01 at 12.42.10

LIVE FEED from Parliament:

BACKGROUND: Jim McMahon was elected as MP for Oldham West in 2015 and has steadily risen through the junior Parliamentary ranks and now sits as Shadow Minister for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

In 2018, following representations from parents, staff and pupils of a free school operated in his constituency, he highlighted concerns over the running of them by a Tameside resident, Raja Miah. That, in short, has led to what Miah himself describes as ‘a vendetta’ against McMahon and, in turn, other leading Labour Party luminaries whom Miah has identified as being close to the MP. Notably, Sean Fielding and Arooj Shah whom Miah has removed from office as successive Leaders of Oldham Metropolitan Council following vicious smear campaigns. McMahon was leader of the same council between 2011 and 2015.

The Adjournment Debate is set to open at 5pm on 30th June, 2022 and the response from the Government benches is expected to be provided by Rachel Maclean, the Member for Redditch who is the Minister for Safeguarding.

Jim McMahon: “Mr Deputy Speaker, I’d like to start by thanking you and the Opposition Chief Whip for granting me permission to bring forward this debate in the chamber of the House of Commons today.

“As those in the House will be aware, it is rare for a frontbench spokesperson to take to the back benches to lead an Adjournment Debate. It reflects the importance of the issue of safeguarding and child sexual exploitation in Oldham. This debate builds on the joint statement issued by myself, the Honourable Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth and the Rt Hon Member for Ashton under Lyne.

“I want to set out how I intend to use the time we have today. Firstly, to focus on victims and the findings of the report. Secondly to focus on the safeguarding challenges during the period covered by the review, and finally, to touch on the disinformation campaign surrounding it.

“Mr Deputy Speaker, child sexual exploitation is a painful reality that all sides of the House, and every community must fight together. The national independent inquiry into child sexual abuse, chaired by Professor Alexis Jay, was published in February of this year. Its stark conclusions demonstrate that children are sexually exploited by organised networks in all parts of our country, in the most degrading and destructive ways.

“Last week, the independent assurance review into historic child sexual exploitation in Oldham was published and it is important that the House has the opportunity to debate it. I would like to place on record my thanks to those who led the independent review, notably Malcolm Newsam, who I am sure that the Minister will know from his work with the Home Office and former senior police officer Gary Ridgway.

On release of the report Mr Newsam said; “We found that throughout this period, especially services tackling child sexual exploitation, provided by Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police was strategically ahead of those available in many of the local authorities at the time. However, these did not always translate at an operational level into the effective safeguarding of children experiencing sexual exploitation.

He went onto say; “Our own review of a sample of children has exposed significant failings in the protection provided by the statutory authorities to those children. We understand that Oldham Council and Greater Manchester Police have agreed to review the management of these cases to consider whether any further action can now be taken in respect to the man who exploited these children.”

“As such, it was right for Greater Manchester police and the council to accept the findings in full and that they give a full and unqualified apology to those who were let down.
In response Council Leader Amanda Chadderton told the press conference: “The vast majority of those children received the support they needed and were kept safe.
The report references some of the commendable work of our social workers in children’s home. What is it is clear is that this wasn’t true for all children and one child let down is one child too many. It is absolutely imperative that our residents have confidence in those people that work to protect our children.”

“This includes the case of ‘Sophie’ whose abuse began in 2006 when she was just 12 years old. There were a further ten sample cases which were later referred to the ‘Messenger’ project, but not adequately followed up on by Greater Manchester Police and social services. The council have confirmed that during the course of the review period, 11,000 child safeguarding referrals were made to the authority, and that the vast majority would have received appropriate support and safeguarding. But let us also be clear; this is of no comfort to the survivors who did not.

“I know that Members across the House have dedicated themselves to supporting survivors of abuse in overcoming hurdles in accessing justice. And as in the cases outlined in the report, the courage shown by victims who came forward stands out.

“The report can be broadly separated into two areas of focus; on the operational approach to keep young people safe, and on political leadership and allegations being levelled over the past three years that abuse by organised grooming gangs was being covered up for political gain. It’s important therefore that we do not shy away from the organised disinformation campaign that sought to undermine the validity and independence of the report from the outset, now claiming the investigators are themselves part of an elaborate cover up.

“The Review does not hold back from highlighting poor practice where it was found. They told uncomfortable truths in Manchester, in Oldham, and they will in the next stage of the review as it moves to Rochdale.

“Will the Minister join me and others, such as the Mayor of Greater Manchester, in condemning the abuse that the authors have received and underline the independent nature of this report?

“Mr Deputy Speaker, for my part, the independent report is clear that during the period from 2011, when I became leader of Oldham Council, I did everything possible to publicise the threat of child sexual exploitation and that I quote “sought to tackle the issue head on.” unquote. But this was a hard and drawn-out battle to improve safeguarding support and that continues to this day.

“Setting out that journey is important. In the year before Labour gained control of the council, children’s safeguarding had been hit by budget cuts of £720,000, including £100,000 cut from the specialist CSE Messenger programme, and £100,000 cut from the CSE residential home, removing dedicated police security which was in place to protect highly vulnerable girls from the abusers who sought continued access.

“Recruitment and retention of social workers was under significant pressure with almost half of all social workers being agency staff covering high vacancies, the long-promised IT system was late in implementing and demand was increasing year on year.

“The change in administration took place two months after the Rochdale Grooming Gang was charged with Shabir Ahmed as it’s ringleader, an Oldham resident and former council employee. Oldham immediately put safeguarding at the top of the priorities for the council and police.”His association with the council was reported in national newspapers at the time, as the case progressed through to trial.

“The Council believed strongly, and it was reflected in its actions, that it had to use all that was available, and take whatever action was needed to tackle CSE, to learn from experiences elsewhere and to raise public awareness.

“When concerns were raised about the risk associated with the growing number of Shisha Bars, the council did all it could to close them down and ultimately succeeded, publicly sharing concerns about high-risk venues both in the Manchester Evening News, and an in-depth feature on BBC Radio Five Live.

“Crucially, this also involved giving professionals in schools, colleges and others working with children updated guidance through the Phoenix Practitioners handbook, which included Shisha Bars as high-risk venues. The report highlights that this disruption activity was ahead of its time.

“When the report into abuse in Rotherham was made public, Oldham carried out a full review of taxi licensing. While the increasingly robust approach was challenged, including by appeals in the Magistrates Court, within a year it had the toughest regime in the region addressing head on licenses being issued to people we believed posed a risk to the public. Although the report concludes there was no widespread grooming in taxis and shisha bars, it demonstrates that Oldham’s concerns were legitimate and although progress was made, at times it could be frustrating.

“The determination to reduce the risk of harm was clear. Oldham never shied away from either the scale or complexity of CSE, or for that matter forced marriage, FGM, online harms, radicalisation and extremism. The risks were fast moving, evolving all the time and still are.

“By 2014, all social workers were employed, except for a single member of agency staff covering maternity leave. The new IT system had been brought in, ending gaps in record keeping on complex cases. Oldham was one of the first to establish a Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hub and to grant access to the Police National Computer to boost intelligence sharing.

“Oldham had developed a public campaign holding educational plays in schools which resulted in 70 victims and witnesses coming forward. It held stalls in the market hall, and article after article set out in full the scale and nature of abuse taking place, often in plain sight.

“The council also actively debated CSE in full council including the scale, nature and risk in Oldham. And by 2014 the Phoenix programme was rolled out across Greater Manchester with ongoing campaigns under the ‘itsnotokay’ banner supported by dedicated local charities including KOGS – Keeping Our Girls Safe, alongside others. This is important because ultimately creating the space for victims to come forward is vital to securing justice.

“Ofsted inspections, peer reviews, and internal reviews all pointed to Oldham’s approach leading the way in CSE, and this was reflected by the Home Office.
That there were significant gaps in support shown in the report, has been met with dismay and frustration and I am deeply sorry to those who were let down.

“The report shows there is much political leadership can achieve, but it also lays bare its limitations too.

“The political environment then and today is important. And whilst I am supportive of the review and believe strongly that it needed to take place, my deep frustration is that the continued undermining of the report, diverts focus away from justice for victims and erodes confidence further.

“We have seen it before, with far-right protests taking to the streets, smearing whole communities and setting out to divide. And its increased significantly with the rise of social media and conspiracy theorists’ platforms such Recusant Nine platform lead by Raja Miah, who seeks to make financial and political gain, by spreading hate, racism, and disinformation.

“We need to be clear with the people of Oldham, about the motivations that sit behind this has little to do with being a ‘Victims Champion’.

“Why am I being so direct? Because as chief executive of the Collective Spirit Free School he presided over a catalogue of serious safeguarding incidents, ranging from violence against pupils to child abuse in school.

“Not only this, but unbelievably, he responded to a catalogue of abuse at the Collective Spirit Free School, as lies. One of the most serious cases was confirmed by a Serious Case Review by the Manchester Safeguarding Partnership where failings at the school prolonged the sexual abuse of a victim. And to add to that, allegations of teachers sexualising children, and basic measures like background checks not being carried out, and that the safeguarding register was falsified by staff during an inspection, to cover up their failings.

“To preside over this is one thing, but to deny it, is not the actions of someone who puts victims first”.

Debbie Abrahams speaks: Is there confidence of victims in Operation Sherwood, the new Greater Manchester Police investigation will bring offenders to justice, including public officials who have been negligent.

I am proud that as Member of Parliament, I stood up to give a voice to pupils, parents and staff to expose the corruption which took place, and in seeing the closure of his schools. And it is this, Mr Deputy Speaker, that sparked the current campaign of abuse, harassment, and division in Oldham as he set out on a self-declared campaign of revenge. It is no accident his campaign began within a week of being named by a Department for Education investigation.
I can see and feel my town of Oldham not just being divided, but it’s hurting, as was evident at the special meeting of the council which took place on Monday. It is true to say that some of those central to the campaign are driven by hatred, politics and that some have links to the far-right. It is also true that some have been central to spreading lies and smears and constant harassment of those they oppose. But we need to be clear that there are people with legitimate concerns that the report sought to address.

It was also clear that there are victims who have been let down and when they came for support were turned away.
It is clear others have loved ones who have been victims, and there are others who are horrified at the reality of abuse which takes place. If we don’t build trust and a common ground in the mainstream of politics, the conditions for such a sensitive issue to be used to divide a town are set.

Hope Not Hate, journalists and others have exposed this, but without action we face the real risk of returning to the ashes of a town divided.

And more, that the disinformation and hatred being set out is destroying the confidence that allows victims to come forward to seek justice through the proper channels.

Deborah Abrahams speaks again to add weight to criticism to the malicious, hateful Miah campaign.

And so, the question is, for those of us that are genuinely determined to move forward and to repair the hurt, what are we going to do differently to create the environment where people can come together to work towards fighting against the evil of child abuse.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham said; Public confidence comes from a willingness to be unflinching in facing up to these claims. And being honest about the past. However difficult that may be. And it comes also from a readiness to bring perpetrators to justice, regardless of the passage of time.”

“MPs in the town will fully play our part. My friend the Rt Hon Member for Ashton-under-Lyne said; “As operation Sherwood commits to reopening investigations we will be pushing for action, and in the end that will be the only test to deliver justice for the victims both identified in the report and beyond. There must be a readiness to reopen cases and secure prosecutions”.

“I hope the Home Office will provide their full support in that mission both in Oldham and across the country, and that they will encourage victims to come forward, knowing they know they get the support they deserve.

“I will leave the final word to Greater Manchester Police Chief Constable, Stephen Watson, who said; “My message to those offenders is a simple one. If you think you have got away with it, you are wrong. And we are coming for you.”

Rachael Maclean MP responds:

“I think we can all agree that we have heard an incredibly powerful speech, and a very thoughtful one, from the hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Jim McMahon) on an extremely difficult subject. I have no doubt that victims of these abhorrent and atrocious events will commend him, and his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams), for setting out their strong commitment to securing justice for those victims, which is what we all want to see. In that, he will have the full support of Conservative Members and the full force of the Home Office—the Home Secretary, and every single Home Office Minister.

“Before I begin my formal response, let me join the hon. Gentleman wholeheartedly in condemning what he has alluded to. I have no personal knowledge of the issues to which he has referred, so I cannot give a substantive response in that regard, but I can say from my position as a Home Office Minister that to call into question the integrity of the law enforcement professionals who dedicate their lives and careers to investigating these incredibly disgusting and abhorrent crimes is outrageous. It is completely wrong, and anyone who thinks that there is any question about their professionalism needs to take a good, long, hard look at themselves.

Deborah Abrahams intervenes to say that there were police failings.

“I apologise; this may seem a bit trite after what the Minister has said, but we need to recognise that there were failings at operational level in the council and in Greater Manchester police. The majority of police officers and council workers will be doing their best, but there were failings from some individuals and that needs to be acknowledged, because those children suffered as a result”.

RM resumes:

“I am going to come on to say exactly that. I hope that the hon. Lady is not conflating the two points I am seeking to make. Absolutely, there were failings by professionals who were supposed to be safeguarding vulnerable children, as the hon. Members have set out, but what I am talking about is the work of the reporting bodies: the ICSA report led by Professor Alexis Jay and the other reports that have been taking place. They have the knowledge of what has gone on in an incredible level of detail and they have set that out.

“Children in Oldham were failed time and again by those who should have protected them, as is shockingly demonstrated in the ICSA report. The vast majority of safeguarding professionals and those working in law enforcement are good people doing a difficult job. There are bad people in any walk of life and where they exist, we should do everything we can to call it out. Those failings are shameful. The report that the hon. Members have alluded to has made six recommendations and we will publish the Government response shortly. I was appalled when reading of the experiences endured by children who were not yet teenagers in Oldham, and it is in no small part due to the ongoing tenacity of those children—now adult victims and survivors—that those awful failures have been uncovered. To make a personal comment, I really do find having to read those reports and stories the worst part of my job. Some of that information is not in the public domain. I cannot sleep at night when I have read them. I am sure that all Members will join me in paying tribute to those victims, survivors and their families who have courageously shared their experiences in the pursuit of change.

“What happened in Oldham has happened in too many places right across the UK, but there have been significant changes in how local authorities and the police safeguard children. I agree with the hon. Members that victims should come forward and report abuse wherever it is taking place because they can have confidence that the police and other frontline services will take them seriously. The best tribute we can make is to ensure that others do not have to endure the same ordeal. I will set out in the time I have left what we are doing.

“We are supporting the police to make improvements. Home Office investment underpins strengthened law enforcement capability to tackle these crimes. We welcome the work of Operation Sherwood to bring prosecutions against sexual abusers of children. We are funding specialist training in the vulnerability, knowledge and practice programme, which identifies best practice and shares it with all forces, and I want to thank the College of Policing for what it is doing on this. I want to be clear that political and cultural sensitivity should never hinder these investigations or the delivery of justice for these victims.

“We have made it clear to the police that the protection of vulnerable children must be a priority, and to this end the Home Secretary has shown real leadership. She has raised the issue through the primary forum that exists for her, which is the National Policing Board, and we are ensuring that performance is rigorously scrutinised. She has commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to investigate how police across England and Wales handle group-based child sexual exploitation. It is right to say that we have been on the front foot on this. Unlike the historical inquiries, this will give an up-to-date picture of the quality and effectiveness of forces’ support for victims and how they are bringing offenders to justice now. We expect findings from the inspection by the end of this year, and I trust that it will give us some much-needed assurance that the policing of these crimes has improved, but make no mistake, should deficiencies be uncovered, we will do what it takes to address them.

As the hon. Members know, our approach is underpinned by the tackling child sexual abuse strategy, which was published in January last year. ICSA will publish its final report very shortly, and we will come forward with a full response to that and set out our actions. More widely, our beating crime plan reaffirms our strong commitment to ensuring that more of these complex crimes end in prosecutions and convictions. We have relaunched our victims and survivors of child sexual abuse fund to support voluntary sector organisations delivering a range of vital services. I want to finish by thanking the hon. Members. I am determined to ensure that we confront these crimes wherever and whenever they occur and leave no stone unturned in our mission to keep children safe.

After the question was formally put and agreed, the Deputy Speaker adjourned the House.

UPDATE: Rachael Maclean resigned from her position as Minister for Safeguarding on 7th July, 2022.

Page last updated Thursday 7th July, 2022 at 1150hrs

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Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

4 thoughts on “Adjournment Debate: Jim McMahon MP – Child sexual exploitation and safeguarding in Oldham

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