A FORMER Oldham detective inspector is calling for the compensation of children who were sexually exploited by grooming gangs 16 years ago.

A damning report found police and social workers failed to protect at least 57 girls from a paedophile network based in south Manchester.

And John Piekos, who has since set up Safe and Free, a charity working to tackle modern slavery and child sexual exploitation (CSE), wants action to help the victims recover.

John, who previously worked in the murder and hostage investigation department, said: “These girls are victims of crimes who have to wrestle with the horrors of the abuse they experienced sometimes for the rest of their lives.

“They were badly let down by the very system which should have protected them and prepared them for a normal life.

“I believe they now deserve on-going support to ensure they get all the help they need.”

The report, commissioned by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham, found children were raped and abused by up to 100 members of a gang of predominantly Asian men.

Most of the victims were in care and authorities knew they were being "subjected to the most profound abuse and exploitation" but did "not protect them from the perpetrators."

Some victims told carers and police officers about the sexual assaults, giving names and addresses.

But the 145-page report into child exploitation in Manchester found no action was taken.

The girls were hooked on drugs, groomed, raped and Victoria Agoglia died, aged 15.

John said: “It is only when we carefully listen to the words of Victoria’s grandmother that one is able to sense the futility, desperation and isolation she must have felt as she struggled to be heard and taken seriously. How can we ever make that wrong right?

“My condolences go to Victoria’s family and hopefully this report can be the catalyst for truth and justice for Victoria.”

John, who set up the charity because he recognised modern slavery and child exploitation was a widespread and under resourced issue, said this case is just the "tip of the iceberg".

He said: “This is an epidemic up and down the country. This report reveals shameful practices which have occurred in anything but isolation.

“Some good work has been done to improve practices but vulnerable children, have not suddenly ceased to exist and they are still targets for exploitation.”

In 2015, child sex abuse was prioritised as a "national threat" by then Prime Minister David Cameron.

John said: “Let’s be clear - this is a not an isolated incident it is part of a much bigger picture.

“I believe that the wider picture remains shrouded in secrecy and denial, but it needs to be honestly, openly and publicly discussed and defined.

“Only then, as a nation can we properly own this - our most shameful problem. Then, as a society, we may each play our part in defeating it.”

He praised Maggie Oliver, the whistleblowing former detective who resigned over the way cases in Rochdale were handled by the force.

He said: “Maggie Oliver is a brave, principled woman who effectively single-handedly fought to accurately scope and define what she was seeing but it effectively cost her career.”

Safe and Free has designed a free educational resource to educate young people on the ways that grooming, child sexual exploitation (CSE) and trafficking can occur.

Working through the programme regularly generates self-referrals from students.

John said: “We need to raise awareness of how perpetrators target children, educate parents, young people and wider members of the community as to ways to stop it.

“We want people to be alert and raise the alarm if they believe someone could be at risk.”

He said predators deliberately frequent the same locality of potential victims grooming them initially with offers of food, alcohol, drugs and money.

He said: “Some children are then encouraged to believe they are in a genuine relationship as ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ only to use it as a way to traffic them further down the line.”

He said action in the vicinity of care homes needs to be designed to reduce risk. This should include ANPR to capture the vehicles of predators in the near vicinity.

Local residents could provide a care watch and receive increased awareness of the signs of CSE.

He added mentoring, with someone a child could trust and see as a worthy role model, were vital.

He also said businesses could offer support such as apprenticeships, to help marginalised children join mainstream society and have better job prospects.

He said: “Let’s show young people, no matter how vulnerable, that they have so much to offer to society and are deserving of a bright future.”

• For more information visit: https://www.safeandfree.co.uk/about-safe-and-free or call 0844 800 8563.

Safe and Free, was set up in 2012, has helped rescue several victims from trafficking. The charity believes better educating young people is the most effective first stepping stone to preventing this crime.

Safe and Free has created an age appropriate pack for teachers to use with their pupils, ensuring the resource is engaging, despite the difficult nature of the topic.

It is available free of charge for schools wishing to explore with their students, real-life case studies of people affected by grooming, how to be aware of the problem and how to protect themselves and others.

Grooming, CSE and trafficking can happen to both girls and boys and Safe and Free’s work reflects this reality.