Hundreds of ‘missing’ children at risk in Greater Manchester

“It could be up to five different men in a day”, one victim says. Jeremy Cooke reports

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Almost 650 children reported missing in Greater Manchester in 2014 were at risk of child sexual exploitation (CSE) or serious harm, a report has suggested.

The study said police received 9,789 reports concerning 3,242 missing under-18s between January and September.

It said some had been reported missing more than once and almost half of the reports were about children in care.

The report by Stockport MP Ann Coffey was commissioned in the wake of the Rochdale grooming case in 2012.

There were about 1,000 convictions in about 13,000 cases of serious sexual offences against under-16s over six years, the report said.

Ms Coffey said the children that had gone missing from care were “very vulnerable” and “at significant risk” of being sexually exploited by predators.

The report found that of the 3,242 individuals reported missing to Greater Manchester Police (GMP), 530 were in care.

That number is over three times the children that were reported in neighbouring Lancashire, where 999 under-18s were classed as missing by police in the same period.
‘Absent’ children
The report stated that one in five of those reported missing in Greater Manchester were at risk of serious harm, including CSE.

In 2013, police forces introduced a new recording system, which separated reports of missing children into two categories – missing, which receives an immediate response, and absent, which does not.

The report found there were 4,923 additional episodes where a child was reported as absent.

In the report, Ms Coffey said: “There must be concern about the high number of looked after children who continue to generate multiple missing reports, as these children are particularly vulnerable to CSE.”

She said she had “strong concerns” that some of the independent private children’s homes in Greater Manchester were “flaunting government guidance, which says they have to notify the local authority when a child moves in from another area”.

“We have, in the North West, about 25% of all private and independent children’s homes in the country so authorities, often from many miles away, place children in the Greater Manchester area.

“These are very troubled children who have been moved to get them out of a situation where maybe they have been at risk.

“Those children don’t necessarily want to be in Greater Manchester and one of the ways in which children demonstrate they don’t want to be somewhere is that they run away.

“There is a significant risk of CSE of children who go missing from care, [as they] are very vulnerable children and are often preyed on by predators who understand this.”
She said GMP had told her that seven children “assessed at high risk of CSE were recently placed into two private children’s homes in one local authority area from a local authority in the Midlands”.

“The local authority, GMP and CSE teams were not informed of their arrival.

“The children came to notice because they went missing shortly after they arrived.”

The report recommends further research into the new police system, spot checks on children’s homes and care provision for 16 and 17-year-olds to be registered and inspected by Ofsted, in the way under-16 care is.

Cassandra Harrison, from the charity Barnardo’s, said: “What we want to see is a robust evaluation of this new [police] system to make sure children are not slipping through the net.

“We know from our services who work with sexually exploited children that there’s some concern around this, because we know that perpetrators are very manipulative, very clever and actually children can be exploited within a very short period of time.”

The report was commissioned by Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Lloyd to assess the improvements in protecting youngsters after nine men were jailed in 2012 for running a child sexual exploitation ring in Heywood and Rochdale.

Ms Coffey will deliver the report’s full findings on Thursday

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