In 2003, a 15-year-old girl in Manchester died after being injected with heroin. Victoria Agoglia’s death was the tragic culmination of 18 months of her telling authorities she was being repeatedly abused, raped and plied with drugs by predatory paedophiles.
Now, a startling review into Victoria’s death has been published. It outlines how her abuse was allowed to happen by officials and police who worked in a culture willing to turn a blind eye to gangs of predominantly Asian men roaming parts of Manchester for years and abusing dozens of victims.
The full scale of the abuse is laid bare in the wide-ranging report commissioned by the Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, but it is the death of Victoria which ultimately sparked concern.
Little action was taken to stop the abuse, despite her telling carers she was being sexually assaulted and given drugs.
Agoglia was ‘repeatedly threatened and assaulted’
The report details how she was “repeatedly threatened, assaulted, returned intoxicated and in distress, gave information that she was involved in sexual exploitation, alleged rape and sexual assault requiring medical attention, became involved in the criminal justice system and had several pregnancy scares”, Manchester City Council found in 2004, the year after she died.
Operation Augusta, which investigated the grooming and abuse of vulnerable girls in care, was launched after her death in 2003 but shelved two years later.
The review into that operation, released on Tuesday, has heavily criticised the failures of police and local authorities in how they dealt with Manchester’s child exploitation.
It reveals how Victoria’s vulnerability in care allowed her to be abused by older men, while little action to stop the abuse appears to have been taken.
A troubled childhood
The report details how Victoria was put into care by her mother when she was eight years old. After her mother died and a foster placement broke down, she was regularly moved between placements.
By April 2002 – when she was 13 – concerns about her truancy, drug taking, theft and what was being referred to as “prostitution” (a term now replaced with the phrase “child sexual exploitation”) meant she was recognised as being at risk.
Residential care staff complained about her “boyfriend” – who they referred to as her “pimp” – supplying her with drugs when he visited her.
The unnamed man – referred to in the report as “Nominal Q” – was said to have been in his mid-20s but no attempt was made to verify his age.
Victoria was reported missing at least 136 times between February and September 2002, and nearly every time she returned she was thought to have been under the influence of alcohol and drugs.
On no less than 16 occasions, residential staff became aware Victoria was worried for her safety because of threats and incidents from inside or outside the residential unit in that same period.
This was known to both police and social services.
After a spell in a secure unit, Victoria got back in touch with “Nominal Q”, and their “relationship” appears to have been “condoned by social services”, the report states.
He visited her placement under supervision but no attempts by Manchester City Council or Greater Manchester Police (GMP) seem to have been made to find out who he was.
“Nominal Q” took Victoria to one of his relatives’ homes in March 2003. After being collected by residential staff, she said she had been raped.
She was examined by a forensic medical examiner the next day but the doctor was not made aware of the sexual exploitation and drug abuse, the report states.
Victoria was moved between placements but concerns about her “prostitution” and drug-taking remained.
In July 2003, Victoria told her social worker she was using heroin daily and was being injected by an older man for “favours”. A week later she told her drugs worker about the heroin but no investigation was started.
She was moved to another residential unit in Greater Manchester.
“It is difficult to understand why this information was not immediately relayed to the police and why the threat of significant harm was not addressed,” the report states.
Victoria and her drugs worker agreed she would smoke heroin in future, rather than inject it.
Two months later, she visited the home of a 50-year-old Asian man, who injected her with heroin.
She died in hospital five days afterwards, on 29 September 2003.
The man – not named in the report – admitted two offences of injecting Victoria with a noxious substance and was given three and a half years’ imprisonment. He was cleared of manslaughter in 2004.
A Manchester City Council report in 2004 found her “extreme level of vulnerability” was “exacerbated” by contact with dangerous adults, drug misuse and involvement in sexual exploitation.
“While not disagreeing with these observations, we would go further,” today’s review said.
“Manchester City Council had parental responsibility for Victoria throughout this difficult period and due to poor professional practice and an absence of the most basic statutory child protection processes failed to protect her.”
Manchester City Council’s review in 2004 recommended that police be informed in every occasion a criminal offence is alleged to have happened to a child.
It also recommended that a joint police and social services investigation should take place when evidence of a child being involved in commercial sexual exploitation is uncovered, even when the child refuses to submit a complaint.
In 2007, the Manchester Evening News reported a coroner’s verdict into her death.
The coroner found that despite Victoria’s tendency to abscond from care, drink alcohol, abuse drugs, mix with inappropriate individuals and provide sexual favours, “these acts would not in my view amount to a real and immediate risk to life”.
The coroner said the council had not breached its protective duties or committed gross failure to meet Victoria’s needs.
He ruled that Victoria had died of “opiate toxicity in circumstances where she was a vulnerable young person and following her unlawful administration of heroin”.
The review states the team remains “concerned as to how the coroner at the inquest reached the conclusions he did” in light of the information the review has considered.
It adds that the coroner’s decision to describe Victoria as having a tendency “to provide sexual favours... significantly underplays the coercion and control Victoria was subject to”.
The review also states that because Victoria’s social worker was told about her being injected with heroin for “favours” in July 2003, “it is difficult to understand how the coroner concluded that: ‘No inferences can be made that the events from the 24 September were reasonably foreseeable’.”
It adds: “Furthermore, having considered both the harrowing experience in public care in Manchester of Victoria and of many of her contemporaries in our sample, we cannot understand how the coroner felt able to conclude his remarks with the following statement: ‘It is absolutely essential also that the public remain confident about the quality of care and support afforded to children cared for within the child protection system.’”
The review says: “We cannot offer any assurance that the majority of the children in the care of Manchester City Council in our sample were adequately protected from child sexual exploitation and that these risks were appropriately dealt with by both Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council.”
Future of Victoria’s case
There is no evidence any investigation was launched into the men who sexually exploited Victoria, the review adds.
It also states: “(Victoria’s) exposure to sexual exploitation by adult males was known to police and social services and, despite the risk of significant harm caused by the men who were sexually exploiting her, statutory child protection procedures, which should have been deployed to protect her, were not utilised and the strategies put in place to protect Victoria were wholly inadequate.”
Victoria’s family have called for her abuse to be investigated since she died.
In 2014, Victoria’s grandmother Joan Agoglia told ITV: “These men are still walking about.
“She needs to be put to rest and I hope if anyone is watching and they do know something, even if it's the smallest thing, to come forward so that social services will know there's a lot of people that still know they never helped these young girls.”
The report also included quotes from then-GMP chief constable Sir Peter Fahy, who said he would be “quite happy” to look at the case again.
However, the Operation Augusta review team was told in 2018 that the remarks were a suggestion, not a commitment to review the case.
He later emailed the team in September 2019 to say: “My response indicated that I was open to review any case including this one and that I believed that the television company or the family had new evidence or representations to make to me or to the review.
“I cannot recall who was the detective who would have been with me at the time of the interview but again I would have believed that they would have ensured that the matter was followed up. I am very sorry that Victoria’s family have not had justice in this case.
“I had no reason to be defensive about this case.
“I was very open at the time about the failings of GMP in these cases and the failings in the wider system. I put very considerable resources into the investigation of CSE [child sexual exploitation] and the review of past cases at a time of overall declining budgets.”
The review has called for Greater Manchester mayor Mr Burnham to discuss how to bring people that appeared to be a risk to children in 2004 to justice.
It also urges for an investigation addressing sexual exploitation in the care system rather than individual complaints.
“Anything less would risk repeating the mistakes of the past and not give the survivors the justice they deserve,” the report concludes.
Manchester City Council responds
Manchester City Council said in a statement that its approach to child sexual exploitation is “strengthened significantly” from 15 years ago.
Joanne Roney OBE, chief executive of Manchester City Council, said: “This report makes for painful reading. We recognise that some of the social work practice and management oversight around 15 years ago fell far below the high standards we now expect.
“We are deeply sorry that not enough was done to protect our children at the time.
“While we cannot change the past we have learned from it and will continue to do so to ensure that no stone is left unturned in tackling this abhorrent crime.”
GMP’s assistant chief constable Mabs Hussain, the head of specialist crime, said: “We have been reviewing all the information available and now a full investigation has been launched.
“To date, this investigation has resulted in one man being arrested and another interviewed under caution in September 2019 in connection with the abuse of Victoria Agoglia.
“The men have been released under investigation and we have provided an update to Victoria’s grandmother on the progress of our enquiries.
“This remains an ongoing investigation and I would encourage anyone who was involved in the original operation as a victim, potential victim or witness to please come forward and contact us so that we and partner agencies can provide you with any support we can.”