A council leader has blasted the 'sickening' behaviour of people repeating allegations of historic child sex abuse 'which have no evidence behind them' in Oldham.
An independent review is taking place into allegations of sexual exploitation in the borough dating back to 2011 which concern ‘shisha bars, taxi companies and children’s homes’.
The review is being led by experts Malcolm Newsam, a former commissioner for social care in Rotherham, and Detective Superintendent Gary Ridgway of Cambridgeshire Police, who worked on the Operation Augusta investigation in Manchester.
At a meeting of the borough’s full council, Liberal Democrat Councillor Sam Al-Hamdani asked what progress had been made in the investigation.
He said: “Given the importance of this for anyone who has suffered any form of exploitation and for reassuring other members of the public, could you let us know when we can expect information to be provided on the investigation into Oldham and to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and the borough council and what areas we would expect the initial report to cover?”
Council leader Sean Fielding (pictured) said he wanted to put his response on record because there was ‘ample speculation on the internet that is being made by people who are not in full possession of the facts surrounding this issue’.
He told councillors that the review is ‘well underway’ and is being overseen by a GMCA steering group which is chaired by the deputy mayor Baroness Beverley Hughes.
“Given the terms of reference which are publicly available, the complexity and the independence of the review work, the council is not in direct control of the timeline for completion of the review, or the release of it’s report. And nor should it be to guarantee true independence,” Coun Fielding said.
“However through the GMCA steering group we are confident that positive progress is being made.”
However he added that it was ‘regrettable’ that the ‘most vocal’ people making allegations of CSE online have ‘refused to engage’ with the review.
“It is further more regrettable that a small number of individuals continue to share and repeat allegations that seem to have no evidence behind them,” Coun Fielding said.
“I cannot comprehend the mentality of those who would withhold evidence of child abuse but yet exploit the issue for personal, political and financial gain as we witness on the internet.
“In fact I find this behaviour, as I’m sure any decent person does, utterly sickening.
“I hope that any victims will not be denied the justice that they deserve by selfish individuals holding on to information that could allow prosecutions to take place and the answers that we are all seeking to be provided.”
He concluded that further detail would be provided to the council when they receive it from the review team.
Chiefs have confirmed the review will cover the period from 2011 to 2014, but will also consider the specific case of one woman who complained about the handling of her case during 2005 and 2006.
The assurance review will specifically consider allegations that have been made on social media involving shisha bars, taxi companies and children’s homes.
This will include the ‘nature and extent to which adults had inappropriate access to children and young people resident in children’s homes in Oldham putting them at risk of harm’.
It will also look at the extent to which historical actions and employment records have been ‘adequately investigated’ in the case of ‘known offenders’ previously employed within Oldham public services.
It is understood this relates to jailed Rochdale grooming leader Shabir Ahmed, who worked at Oldham council until the mid-2000s.
The framework of the review says ‘particular reference’ will be made to concerns that statutory agencies were ‘aware of this abuse, failed to respond appropriately to safeguard the children and subsequently covered up these failings’.
All reports, audits and performance information on the management of child sexual exploitation during the review period will be looked at by the team.
They will also look at allegations in social media posts relating to the period 2011-2014.
This will include interviews with individuals who have made ‘significant allegations’, preliminary interviews with senior officers at Oldham council and, if required, former officers.