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Billy Howarth is the co-founder of Parents Against Grooming UK (PAGUK), a group created in 2014 by parents who got together after Rochdale’s grooming scandal.
Hi Billy, tell me a little about PAGUK and what your plans are?
We created the group in 2014 and at first we were just offering support to parents who were dealing with the emotional aftermath of the fact that their children had been raped or groomed. After speaking with parents and survivors we realised that the services in Rochdale (GMP Rochdale, children’s services, Rochdale Council and Rochdale probation) were guilty of an industrial-sized cover up over the rape-gang scandal. Two BBC series proved that we were correct in our suspicions – Three Girls and Betrayed Girls.
We set about protesting for an Inquiry into the accountability of those in power in relation to these children and we continue to do so to this day.
However, over the years the widespread crime of grooming has finally come to light nationwide and we have had to evolve as an organisation to accommodate this fact.
In 2016 we were reporting tip-offs as to where these groomers were operating and also what some of their names where. We reported these findings to our Child Safety Unit, which had been set up in the midst of the grooming scandal. This unit was called Sunrise. At a meeting with high-ranking officials and heads of safeguarding agencies, we were told that the handing over of tip-offs wasn’t enough. We had told Sunrise that cars of men were regularly gathering outside Location A with the sole purpose of chatting to and picking up young girls. Members of the public had also told us that they had seen two young girls as young as 14 years of age talking to grown men. We were told that this was not enough information for Sunrise to act upon. They told us we had to find the name of the girls, the schools they attended, and they also wanted us to get the registration plates of the cars and any video footage that we could. If we had that kind of information then Sunrise would be able to act, but they couldn’t act based on just a tip-off about Location A.
We obliged Sunrise in their request and we formed the Parent Patrol, which includes a group of parents who patrol these areas in the evening. We also follow known paedophiles and watch buildings that men are known to take underage girls to and we gather intelligence.
We also support survivors and parents, raise awareness about CSE and work with other groups on different projects all in the name of obtaining justice for our children and ensuring their safety. We continue to grow and it is my hope that we spread our wings and make a difference nationwide like we have in Rochdale.
Rochdale is famous the world over for all the wrong reasons. What, if anything, has changed since the scandal was exposed?
Rochdale is now etched in the history books as being notorious for child-grooming and rape gangs and we as Rochdalians hate that. There is a cloud of injustice over Rochdale as hangs over many other towns across the UK, and those towns compromise long and vastly growing list. For us to clear our skies, we need to hold to account those responsible for the safety and well being of young children. We need justice for the children (boys and girls) and we need to target and prosecute all parties who allowed the rapes and the grooming to continue long after they became public knowledge. Anyone who played a part in covering theses crimes up needs to be held to account and brought to justice.
PAGUK will fight on until this is achieved via an independent inquiry.
We still have a problem with grooming. We receive cases on a daily basis within Rochdale alone, but there’s a new pattern of trafficking emerging, which we are now identifying and addressing. For example a girl from Rochdale will be taken to Telford and a girl from Telford Rochdale. At the moment we find ourselves hitting a brick wall in relation to clamping down on these gangs because of the current political climate in Rochdale, but we are hoping that the elections in May will change things for the better.
How are the residents of Rochdale coping with what has happened to their children?
Rochdale has become a deeply divided town and it grows divided with each case of grooming that arises. Both the far-left and the far-right use our town as a platform. We want justice. We want reform to the children’s services. We want accountability. We have tried to work with both GMP and Rochdale Council. Trust from the residents is at an all time low. That is why this Saturday PAGUK are calling for all parents from around the UK to join us at Rochdale town hall at 2 PM and help with the petition-drive for an independent inquiry and accountability for those directly involved in Rochdale’s grooming scandal and those who could have stopped it.
Rochdalians are a tough breed and this has brought us to our knees. Now it’s our time to rise to our feet and bring those we hold in contempt to their knees.