Three Girls, the recent BBC One drama about the Rochdale sex abuse scandal, was one of the most harrowing, most important and most watched television shows of 2017. One of the series’ central characters was Maggie Oliver (portrayed onscreen by Lesley Sharp): the detective constable who quit her job with Greater Manchester Police to act as a whistleblower for the girls.
Now, Oliver has called for police to be held to account for failing to protect some of the most vulnerable members of society, which she describes as “gross criminal neglect”.
“To this day, even though this has been a national scandal, with however many thousands of victims that have been abused and failed, not one senior officer has been held accountable,” Oliver tells the Telegraph.
“They’ve all walked away and left a country strewn with vulnerable children who have been abused, and they don’t have a backward glance.”
Oliver was a key adviser on Three Girls, and also appears in a harrowing new follow-up documentary, The Betrayed Girls. The film, which aired on BBC One on Monday 3 July, tells the previously unheard stories of four more girls involved in the case. As many as 50 girls are thought to have been victimised in total, and Oliver – who first began investigating sexual abuse in Rochdale in 2003 – says that GMP were aware of sexual grooming going on for years before any action was taken.
Oliver first began investigating sex crimes in Lancashire after a girl named Victoria Agoglia died from a heroin overdose in Rochdale. The 15-year-old left behind a letter saying that she had been raped by too many older men for her to remember, and Oliver persuaded GMP to fund a full investigation, which identified dozens of young victims and suspects in inner-city Manchester.
However, Oliver says the investigation was “buried” without a single suspect being arrested when she took a leave of absence in 2005 to care for her husband, Norman, who was dying of terminal cancer.
An investigation that began in Rochdale in 2008 was dropped in 2009, with the victims labelled unreliable witnesses. Oliver wasn’t approached again by GMP until 2011, when the investigation was picked back up. She refused to take part until she was assured that the girls would be supported for speaking out.
Oliver was then tasked with gaining the trust of the girl known as ‘Amber’ (played in Three Girls by Ria Zmitrowicz). Amber had herself been arrested for pimping, and Oliver was told that her testimony was crucial if the case was to go to trial.
“Over a period of five months, Amber gave six or seven interviews, went to ID parades, identified offenders, told me about the most horrendous abuse, about being threatened at gunpoint by the offenders,” says Oliver.
“The powers that be were begging me to get her to trust me. And she did, and she named 30 men that had raped her over a period of months.”
However, in one of the most disturbing moments of Three Girls, Amber was later dropped as a witness. Oliver believes that this was because too many people were implicated in her evidence for GMP to conduct a speedy investigation.
While nine men were eventually convicted for sex crimes in Rochdale, many of the abusers identified by Amber were never charged and are “still out there now”, according to Oliver. She hopes that the renewed attention on the Rochdale crimes will result in changes in how the police deal with sex crimes.
She also hopes that the scandal will alter how working class victims are treated by authorities.
“If you’re a victim of a rape it doesn’t matter if you’re from a palace or a council estate,” she says. “You are a victim and you deserve to be protected by the public services.”
The Betrayed Girls is available to watch on iPlayer now.
Images: BBC One / Rex Features