Following a meeting that took place at Greater Manchester Police headquarters, earlier this week, between Oldham’s highest profile child sexual exploitation (CSE) survivor, ‘Sophie’, and the GMP chief constable, a written reply has now been provided by Stephen Watson, who joined the thoroughly disgraced force just over a year ago.
Sophie was accompanied at the meeting by Margaret Oliver, a retired police detective and well known champion of CSE survivors – and who has acted as her advocate through a controversial Assurance Review process commissioned by the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, in January, 2020.
The final report was released on 20th June, 2022 amid a storm of criticism directed not only at the grotesque failings of GMP but at Oldham Council paid officers. The appalling injustices and mis-treatment of Sophie is now admitted and the meeting with CC Watson was part of a purported reparation process.
This is the full text of the letter from the chief constable, reproduced here with the express written permission of Sophie.
“I write further to our meeting on Monday at GMP Force Headquarters, and in response to the letter which you handed to me then. It was a pleasure to meet you in person and to be afforded the opportunity to apologise for our failure to be there for you at a time when you most needed us. My expressing how sorry I am was heartfelt and I repeat my sentiments now.
“You request that GMP re-open the criminal investigation into the abuse which you suffered in October 2006. In this respect, I can confirm that concrete steps are now underway to do precisely what it is that you have asked for. Under the auspices of Operation Sherwood, we are significantly expanding our Force CSE Unit (up to an additional 21 investigators) such that a detailed and focused criminal investigation might be undertaken into the awful events which affected you and other vulnerable victims in Oldham at that time. My officers will revisit all of the available evidence, and work to surface any new evidence, and to fully pursue all reasonable lines of enquiry. If in the course of such enquiries, it becomes apparent that previously held evidence has been lost or erased, we will take steps to secure evidence from other viable sources and to use any such loss of evidence as an opportunity to revisit relevant policies and procedures so as to prevent a recurrence.
“You enquire into the possibility of these matters being investigated by an independent force. Whilst I respect the grounds upon which your request is based, I feel that GMP can build in a high degree of independent scrutiny such as to secure your confidence in the process. I have not merely discounted your request but rather having considered it, come to the view that a number of practical constraints rather defeat the idea. Most forces in the UK simply do not retain the type of specially trained investigators in anything like the numbers to be able to spare such officers for secondment to a neighbouring force. GMP is, in fact, one of a handful of forces to be able to establish a team of the size and ability as is already represented in Operation Sherwood.
“My assurance to you is that all of the investigators on Operation Sherwood will never have worked on any linked previous investigations. Consequently, the team, including at the leadership level, will be coming to this investigation with a totally fresh perspective, and with no investigative bias. The overarching responsibility for ensuring that the investigation is properly conducted falls to Assistant Chief Constable Sarah Jackson. Sarah has responsibility for all criminal investigations across Greater Manchester, she is a highly experienced detective in her own right and has had no personal involvement in any previously related investigation. I know that Sarah would arrange for you to be introduced to your own dedicated officers within Operation Sherwood, who would explore with you the fresh lines of enquiry you have referred to in your letter. This would inform the basis of the future direction of travel for the investigation.
“Furthermore, it would be Sarah’s intention to introduce routine external reviews of the progress of the investigation as an additional safeguard. Such external reviews are completely independent and are conducted by senior and experienced investigators.
“Whilst I cannot practically therefore accede to your request for the entire investigation to be conducted by another force, I hope that the steps outlined above, will provide you with some tangible reassurance as to the rigour and intent that sits behind Operation Sherwood.
“Lastly, you request that a fresh inquiry be instigated into potential misconduct given past failings; and that such an enquiry also be conducted by either the IOPC or an independent force. I can confirm that I have requested that a full review is conducted into the circumstances of GMP‘s failings in your case and in respect of the forces response to your earlier complaints. The purpose of the review will be to establish whether evidence of any misconduct can be established, and if so, to take such discovery forward in an appropriate manner.
“Whilst similar practical constraints also restrict my ability to orchestrate a totally independent review, I hope here too to be able to offer you some positive assurances. We are currently recruiting a new Head of our Professional Standards branch. The successful candidate will, in all probability, be drawn from another force and they will therefore bring an entirely fresh perspective of their own. The afore-mentioned review will be personally overseen by the new head of PSB who will in turn report directly to the Deputy Chief Constable, Terry Woods. Terry is himself relatively new to the force and is, I can assure you, both scrupulous and rigourous in his work as well as being sufficiently distanced from the past to be objectively independent. We will be exposing the review to the scrutiny of the IOPC and we will maintain routine communication with them as to progress. If at any time during the course of the review, the IOPC determine that they might wish to conduct enquiries independently, then we will naturally facilitate every support to them and transfer ownership of the review in a timely and effective manner.
“My apologies for the length of my reply, but I wanted to do you the courtesy of a full response to the key elements of your letter, all of which are fairly and reasonably set out. Further to our meeting on Monday, I know that steps are being taken to provide you with the requested single point of contact. This should assist in keeping you fully abreast of developments and also as a means of dealing with any questions that you might wish to pass to us.
“In conclusion, we are committed to doing all that we reasonably can to remedy lost opportunities, to prevent what happened to you from happening to another and to seeking justice for you by making offenders answerable for their crimes.
“I am so sorry that you have had to endure so much in your life and I repeat my apology for the added pain caused by GMP‘s failures to offer you the care and protection that you so obviously deserved. We will of course endeavour to keep you routinely updated but, should you feel that you require any further information, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Sophie, who told ITV’s Granada Reports, in a programme broadcast on Monday 4th July, 2022 that the CSE Assurance Review was “not worth the paper it was written on”, has responded, in a prepared statement, to Stephen Watson’s letter in similar vein:
“I am profoundly disappointed with the letter from the chief constable and view Operation Sherwood, and the other measures he proposes, as simply the next stage in a well organised cover-up by his police force. It is for a very good reason that GMP remain in Special Measures and that is the best possible argument as to why an outside police force should investigate my own specific concerns. Nothing in CC Watson’s letter persuades me otherwise.
“For example, Sarah Jackson is the officer who closed down the grooming gang investigation in Barrow. We went to support Ellie Williams in court [where she faces criminal charges at a trial listed to start in October, 2022]”.
Neil Wilby, the author of this article, adds;
“ACC Sarah Jackson, presented as a ‘clean skin’ by GMP, arrives on this particular crime scene with other baggage. She was spirited away to Cumbria Constabulary as the innocent party in what became nationally known as ‘Boobgate’ scandal. A superintendent in GMP at the time and has a brother who was a long-serving officer in both GMP and South Yorkshire Police (working under command of CC Watson), before retiring recently as a chief superintendent. Stuart Barton, said to be a long term rugby friend of Stephen Watson, is currently reported to be engaged as ‘consultant’ with GMP, ‘training’ chief superintendents, with fees reputed to be in the region of £100,000 pa. He was previously a named Director of GMP’s Sports and Social Club at Chorlton.
“The principal player in ‘Boobgate’ was. of course, ACC Rebekah Sutcliffe, whom, in turn, was ‘magicked’ onto the Oldham Council payroll at an astonishing £122,000 per annum salary (an increase of around £13,000 over her GMP remuneration), doing what was, essentially, a non-job. Apart from running the council’s liaison with the Assurance Review team and the parallel GMP investigation, codenamed Operation Hexagon.
“When challenged about a conflict of interest, over her husband, C/Supt Paul Rumney, being involved in Professional Standards complaints raised by Sophie in 2012 and beyond, Oldham Council and GMP steadfastly refused to remove her from that role (read more here). She did, however, resign from her job at the council just two months later. Unusually, without any form of pay-off. Unsurprisingly, her job as ‘Strategic Director of Reform’ disappeared with her.
“It is trite, and there are many examples elsewhere on this website, that GMP’s Professional Standards Branch has been, for many years, one of the most inept and corrupt in the entire police service. Does CC Watson genuinely expect any person of sound mind, let alone an investigative journalist whom, for nine years, has been adjacent to the most high profile, appalling cover-ups – two of them perpetrated against Sophie herself by his PSB in 2013 and 2018 – to believe that, simply by changing the Head of that ‘rotten to the core’ department, trust in it becomes automatic and something that Sophie is going to believe in?”
“Elementary, dear Watson; she isn’t”.
The GMP press office has been approached for a response to Sophie’s statement.
Page last updated Sunday 10th July, 2022 at 1020hrs
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