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How the state failed to protect children in Rochdale

Despite Rochdale social services being told that the girls were at risk, they did not intervene.

A newspaper advertising board outside a corner shop in the Lancashire town of Ro
A newspaper advertising board outside a corner shop in the Lancashire town of Rochdale after nine men were arrested for child sexual exploitation on January 11, 2011. Photograph: Getty Images

In August, I reported from Rochdale on the fall-out from the child grooming scandal - in which a gang of child abusers had been allowed to operate unhindered for several years, despite social services and police being aware of its existence.

Today's Guardian has unearthed evidence that backs up claims made in my report. The scale of what they uncovered, via freedom of information requests, is quite shocking: an NHS crisis intervention team that provided sexual health services to vulnerable young people contacted the borough council a total of 83 times between 2004 and 2010 about teenage girls they thought were being abused.

Despite Rochdale social services being told that the girls - some of whom were in care but many who were not - were at risk, they did not intervene. As the town's MP, Simon Danczuk, told me, there was an attitude that the girls were making "life choices" and were choosing to have sex with their abusers.

Greater Manchester Police, too, were slow to act - only bringing a prosecution against members of the gang over two years after an initial complaint was made. Their excuse was that the girls were from "chaotic, council estate" backgrounds, indicating a similar attitude to social services.

When the nine members of the grooming gang were convicted in May 2012, much of the media coverage focused on the fact that they were all of British Pakistani or Afghan origin, and that their victims were white. Earlier this week, the Times reported on similar crimes that took place in Rotherham (£), and a similar catalogue of inaction by agencies that should have been protecting children.

These most recent reports emphasise that whatever the motivations of their abusers, the victims were failed by the state, as a result of assumptions made about their backgrounds and morals. These were the "missed opportunities" acknowledged by Rochdale's Safeguarding Children Board in a report also published today.

Politicians and media commentators who wish to grandstand about "Muslim culture" or "Asian sex gangs" - and there have been plenty - should recognise that in these cases, prejudice exists rather closer to home.

The former Home Secretary Jack Straw has once again waded into the debate, acknowledging the systemic failures, and that the vast majority of sex offenders in Britain are white, but calling once more for the "Asian community" to confront abusers in its midst.

Yet, as Mohammed Shafiq, a youth worker from Rochdale and head of the Ramadhan Foundation, told me:

"The progress is on the street. It’s in the cafés, in the takeaways, with people socialising in the gym. People are talking about this. There has been utter disgust at the crime, and shame that someone from our community has done this, and sympathy for the families who have had to suffer." But, he added: "I think we’ve got a chattering class in London, where anything to do with race, anything to do with working-class people, they rub their hands with glee and decide that they’re going to inflame this. And because they [the abusers] were Asian, because they were Muslim, it just fitted their agenda."