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Rochdale victim: “I was prepared at 14, then came the courts for my children” | Ring for sexual abuse of children in Rochdale

Between 2008 and 2010, a child abuse group that became known as part of the “haircut gang” phenomenon operated in Rochdale, Greater Manchester. Girls between the ages of 13 and 15 were trafficked, prostituted, raped and attacked by the gang.

One victim was forced to have sex with at least 20 men overnight; another was forced to drink vodka and vomited on the side of the bed while being raped by “countless men.”

The perpetrators handed over the girls to their friends, often for debt settlement. The victims, many of whom are of difficult origin and therefore particularly vulnerable, were loaded with drugs, alcohol and fast food and then taken to ‘cold houses’ in the north of England to be abused. A 13-year-old victim became pregnant and had an abortion. Some of the men involved were arrested, tried and found guilty. But not all.

One of the victims – the fictional name Amber in Three Girls, the BBC One drama about violence – was 14 when she was targeted by gang members. After a difficult upbringing, Amber was entered in the Child Protection Register as at risk of sexual and emotional abuse and neglect. Thirsting for love and attention, Amber was drawn into a nightmare, subjected to repeated and often violent sexual abuse.

The nightmare was supposed to end with the arrest and trial of the perpetrators, but instead the police, the Royal Public Prosecutor’s Office (CPS) and even social services treated her not as a victim but as a perpetrator.

Last Tuesday, Amber, along with two other victims of the Rochdale haircut gang, finally received an apology in person from Stephen Watson, chief police officer of the Greater Manchester Police (GMP). Their treatment includes a number of catastrophic mistakes in one of the most painful scandals of sexual abuse of children in the country.

When we met at a hotel in Rochdale last month, Amber was accompanied by Maggie Oliver, a former police detective who quit her job in protest of the way Amber was treated.

In 2009, when Amber was 16, uniformed men arrived at her mother’s home, arrested her and took her to the police station.

“[I] I can’t remember exactly what they said, but it was something like “madam,” she recalls. “I didn’t know what that meant.” She was detained for hours before being released on bail. Her mother was not allowed in during the interview and no suitable adult was mentioned.

Amber, under pressure from the bullies, took some of her friends to the home of the leaders. She told me: “It was not violent. It was like a coincidence. “Oh, bring your friends.” She was a vulnerable child, sexually abused, controlled, and afraid.

No further action was taken against Amber, but it would be another two years before the CPS agreed that she should be treated as a victim and witness, not a suspect. During this time, Amber, already pregnant and living in a one-room apartment, continued to be a target of care gangs. Although police questioned a total of 56 men on suspicion of ill-treatment, only a handful were tried. Therefore, there were many people who were still walking free who had escaped discovery.

Stephen Watson, the chief police officer of the Greater Manchester Police, apologized to three of Rochdale’s victims. Photo: Christopher Thomond / Guardian

Amber was also threatened with a gun by a man she later identified with police. Nothing has happened. She told me: “Indeed, the police were not angry with us. They didn’t worry … when you were from a rotten house. They don’t care when you’re not rich. “

It wasn’t until she met Oliver in early 2012 that things began to change. In 2010, Oliver was prosecuted to join the gang case for companies as a victim detective and liaison officer for trying to work with vulnerable victims.

Understandably, Amber did not want to trust the police. But after the CPS informed GMP that she was no longer considered a suspect, she was persuaded by Oliver to launch a series of video interviews and identity parades.

I asked Amber what gave her the strength to testify to the police after the experience. She told me, “So it hasn’t happened to anyone else. I didn’t want other people to feel what I felt. ” Her courage and support for Oliver led to a database of abusers, which she identified by name, car registration, phone number and address. He formed much of the police investigation that became known as Operation Span.

The identity parades were particularly grueling for Amber, who made 12 in just one day, correctly identifying 10 of her abusers. Then she told me, “I went home, I put it in my mind to be honest. I have a box in the back of my head and I just put everything there and it’s locked. “

But before the last interview turned out, Oliver said she had begun to notice a change in the tone of the senior officers and felt that they were now deliberately trying to repel the victim. Then, shortly after the identity parade, Oliver was told he would no longer “use” Amber’s evidence. She refused to agree to the decision, and was barred from speaking to Amber.

The period during the accumulation of the trial against the men accused of being part of the gang of haircuts was gloomy for Amber. She says she has never been informed by police that she is no longer treated as a victim, or that none of those she claims to be her abusers should have been prosecuted for her violence.

The trial of nine of the makeup gang was pending, and in the meantime, although she was never informed, arrested or warned, Amber was added to the CPS indictment as an accomplice.

Without Amber’s initial evidence, there could have been no trial at all. She gave police a list at an early stage of Operation Span, with nicknames, phone numbers and other details related to the offenders. She later positively identified a number of offenders, which allowed charges to be brought against all of them.

Photographs of handouts released by Greater Manchester Police in 2012 show eight of the nine men convicted in connection with the group of sexual exploitation of children. Photo: AFP / Getty Images

But in court she was represented by the prosecution and the defense as an assistant pimp. As she did not take part in the trial and therefore did not testify, she was unable to defend herself. She was slandered and called the “Honey Monster” in the press. Although a court order prevented her from being named, everyone in her local community knew who she was.

Following the lawsuit, social services began harassing Amber to remove her children. Shortly before her second baby’s term, she was summoned to the family court, where a request was made to remove the two children on the grounds that Amber was a abuser and a danger to children.

Finally, after an exhausting 18 months and several hearings, the judge dropped the case. Five years later, she won an apology and compensation from social services.

In 2019, Amber, along with two other victims, with the help of the Center for Women’s Justice, filed a civil lawsuit for damages against GMP and the Director of Prosecution (DPP). While GMP has finally settled the request, which includes a personal apology from the chief police officer, DPP has so far resisted. In response to Amber’s claim that it was wrong to name her in the indictment, she said it was “the right course from both a legal and a tactical point of view.”

To date, the CPS has not accepted any failure on its part and instead continues to alert this case as the first successful prosecution of a courtship gang. While this is true, Amber believes she was used as a scapegoat.

“What the police and the CPS did to me was worse than the abuse … The apology will be something of a burden to me.” But the nightmare will never end. Amber still sees those she says have been raped, beaten and tortured outside and around Rochdale. “One delivered food to my home a few weeks ago,” she tells me.

In the end, she is acquitted. She forced the police and social services to apologize for her behavior.

“I agreed to help the police stop this from happening to others,” Amber wrote to Oliver in the midst of her justice campaign. “I trusted the police that they would help me this time. I gave hours of interviews, reliving all the violence. I got sick, I was upset – no one from the police ever came to me to explain why I don’t go to court anymore. No one is ever loaded, why?

“My name was dragged through the mud. I push the thoughts of abuse out of my head. And I didn’t do anything wrong – I was a victim of these 14-year-old men. I should have been helped, not punished. ”

The NSPCC offers support to children on 0800 1111 and adults caring for a child on 0808 800 5000. The National Association of Child Abuse (Napac) offers support to adult survivors on 0808 801 0331.