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Survivors’ champion Maggie Oliver transforms ‘pain to power’ for new venture

Detective-turned-whistleblower Maggie Oliver is in bed with vertigo. She can’t move without feeling horrendously dizzy. The last time she suffered like this was eight years ago when she resigned from Greater Manchester Police in order to expose the now infamous Rochdale grooming scandal.

Back then in 2012, nine members of a paedophile ring had been sentenced for grooming and sexually abusing young girls in Rochdale, Manchester. But it barely scratched the surface of a highly organised crime group that numbered hundreds of perpetrators and countless young victims.

Maggie had worked in The Serious Crime Division of GMP for many years and as well as being commended for her work on countless gangland murders, shootings, kidnappings, rapes and witness protection jobs throughout her career, she had also been investigating multiple allegations of serious sexual assault by predominantly Pakistani men as early as 2003.

Maggie loved her career in the police

During the course of her work on Operation Augusta and Operation Span, she had interviewed many victims at length over many months, uncovering harrowing stories of the systematic abuse of girls as young as eleven. However she was continually shocked by the repeated failure of senior officers to record these allegations, to prosecute the serial offenders or to protect the young victims.

Today talking from her sick bed, she says: “This is my body telling me off. I’ve been doing too much. The last time this happened was my last day working for the police. One minute I was at the photocopier, the next I was unconscious. It was stress after the two worst years of my life. I was faced with a very brutal decision. You either shut up and get on with your job, or resign. It was clear to me that the powers that be weren’t going to take the action needed and I felt powerless. It took its toll on my health.”

As a result, Maggie, who had lost her husband to cancer in the midst of the scandal, also lost her family home, her income, and a career she loved.

“My mental health was shot to pieces but I left and spent several months working on a File on Four whistle-blower programme, from there things snowballed. The BBC drama series Three Girls followed. Fighting for justice has in many ways taken over my life. I decided the only way to tell the true story was to write my own book last year and leave it for my children and grandchildren to explain what brought me to a place that I never expected to be in.”

Maggie with husband Norman who died in the midst of the scandal

After almost 15 years fighting to expose the truth, on January 14 this year, Maggie saw the report into child sexual exploitation in Manchester finally published. This found that dozens of children were failed by police and local authorities.

Three Girls, BBC drama series about the scandal

The 145-page report centred on Operation Augusta. The police operation identified in 2005 had identified at least 57 victims and 97 potential suspects, and a “compelling picture of the systemic exploitation of looked after children in the care system” was established by detectives.

According to the report, senior officers at GMP chose to under-resource the investigation and then a decision was made to close it down in 2005. Maggie was on compassionate leave at the time nursing her terminally ill husband Norman through his final days, following his brave two-year battle with terminal bowel cancer. The couple have four children.

She said after the report was published: “I feel completely vindicated”

Until the January 2020 review became imminent last year, GMP had always refused to reopen Augusta, despite pleas from Maggie and a victim’s family.

But that didn’t stop her from taking every opportunity, since her retirement to highlight publicly this unfinished business.

She said after the report was published: “I feel completely vindicated.”

Since resigning from the police force, Maggie has continued to support victims of abuse. People have continued to knock on her door asking for help because they feel they’re not being listened to and being failed, which is what prompted her to set up her charity The Maggie Oliver Foundation 15 months ago.

Since resigning Maggie has made many TV appearances to spread the word

“I’ve learned so much over the past seven years and I have been able to share all my learning with those victims who need it most. Everything is against these kids. Like applying for compensation, Legal Aid lawyers make a fortune but the kids are often fobbed off with a pittance. It’s a horrific system. Victims approach me and The Foundation can now help, support and guide them in the right direction.”

Maggie is also working alongside Harriet Wistrich, of The Centre for Women’s Justice, relating to systemic failures surrounding the Rochdale grooming gang case. She is also a Commissioner with a project led by Sajid Javid and The Centre for Social Justice looking into CSA/CSE and how the treatment of victims can be improved.

“There are so many victims in the country who are lost in a system that doesn’t care. I’m one person. I can’t change the world on my own. That’s why I’m exhausted and in bed now. In a civilised country like ours our priority should be child protection.”

Maggie now has a team of 40 volunteers and six trustees, but over 2,000 survivors have approached The Foundation since they started in July 2019.

Maggie the media personality

In five years time she hopes to have a Maggie Oliver Centre in every major town in the country, run by local people. But that will depend on funding. So far they have received just under £10,000 from the Lottery fund and there’s a crowdfunding appeal underway.

But it’s taken its toll. “It has been like starting a business from a standing start. I’d never done anything like it before. At times I’ve felt like I’ve bitten off more than I can chew. It’s been an absolute mountain to climb, and we desperately need funding to reach our ambitious goals.

“The positive thing is that survivors are no longer isolated or alone. Our aim is to help survivors to “Transform their Pain into Power” and we are expanding our national phone line to help with this. We are sharing their Survivor stories on our website too and sometimes that alone can make a huge difference to a survivor. But above all we want Survivors to know that there is a future.

The charity is in need of employees to manage the phoneline, an experienced charity bid writer and dedicated psychological support for people suffering with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“The reality is that a victim can wait years for that sort of help. We have ambassadors who are survivors themselves and they too can make a massive difference by listening to those who may just need a kind and empathetic listening ear.

Maggie with family

“The distance we’ve travelled in just 15 months is unbelievable but we need funders, donations and supporters to make this go the full distance and if it doesn’t it wont be for the lack of trying. I’ve put my life on hold for this and I’ve got some brilliant people alongside me now but we can’t go to the next level without help.”

To read more about the Maggie Oliver Foundation, to volunteer, sponsor or donate please visit https://www.themaggieoliverfoundation.com/

To read her book: Survivors: One Brave Detective’s Battle to Expose the Rochdale Child Abuse Scandal

Diane Cooke
Diane Cooke is a three times award-winning journalist who has worked for UK national/regional newspapers, magazines and websites.

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