A whistleblowing former detective has called for police officers to be prosecuted for “deliberately ignoring” the sexual abuse of young girls.
Maggie Oliver said historical abuse between 2003 and 2005 was met by “gross criminal neglect at the top echelons” of Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
On Tuesday a report criticised the way authorities handled cases and GMP later admitted “authorities fell short”.
The force has been asked to respond to Ms Oliver’s comments.
Ms Oliver, who resigned over the way cases in Rochdale were handled by the force, said: “These are not mistakes – I want to make it absolutely clear – these were deliberate acts to bury and ignore the abuse of many, many vulnerable children.”
The independent review focussed on the 2003 death of 15-year-old Victoria Agoglia and its aftermath.
Police identified at least 97 suspects, but “very few” faced justice, its authors found.
GMP’s Operation Augusta was set up in February 2004 to tackle “the sexual exploitation throughout a wide area of a significant number of children in the care system by predominantly Asian men”, the report said.
A major investigation team quickly identified 26 potential victims and 97 people potentially involved in child sexual exploitation. But, 16 months later, Augusta had been formally closed.
That decision, the report’s authors said, was “driven by the decision by senior officers to remove the resources from the investigation rather than a sound understanding that all lines of enquiry had been successfully completed or exhausted.”
One of the officers identified in the report as “Chief Superintendent A” is the serving Chief Constable of West Midlands Police, Dave Thompson, who, at the time, was a GMP divisional commander.
In a statement, he denied being involved in Operation Augusta or telling a meeting that the operation would close on 1 July 2005 because he was “unable to put permanent staff” into the investigation.
“Whilst I have no recollection of this discussion and no other documents are held by GMP in this case I do not believe an investigation of this type initiated at a Force Level would have been terminated by a local commander.
“It is clear Greater Manchester Police and Manchester City Council should have done a better job. As a member of the force at that time, I am very sorry we did not do a better job.
“However I am very clear I would not have closed an investigation like this.”
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said there had been an institutional mindset in which young, vulnerable girls were not seen as the victims but as the problem.
Ms Oliver said she was relieved the report had given “public exposure” to “the failures of the authorities to deal with serious sexual abuse of dozens of children”.
She continued: “My real anger about the whole of this 15-year journey is that the report makes it very clear that we had absolutely sufficient evidence to prosecute these serial paedophiles.
“And for that, we need accountability. This was gross criminal neglect at the top echelons of Greater Manchester Police. Covering up the truth.
“For me, accountability means taking those senior officers who made these decisions in front of a court. They should be charged with misconduct in a public office.”
Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor for the North West, said he believed police made budgeting and “resourcing” decisions before people’s safety.
He said: “Resourcing is a choice. And senior leaders in policing chose to allow children to be raped.
“I think Maggie has put her finger on it. It was a culture.
“We didn’t understand grooming back then. Grooming was a relatively new concept for people in policing to understand.
“They seemed to think that because the victims weren’t coming forward, there was nothing to worry about.”