BBC One’s new drama Three Girls launched on Tuesday to five million viewers.
The three-part series tells the story of the victims of an infamous child grooming and sex trafficking scandal in Rochdale, and continues on Wednesday night.
Nine men of mainly Pakistani heritage were convicted in 2012 after a long, complex trial for offences that happened in and around Rochdale in 2008 and 2009.
The dramatisation tells the story of three children who were victims in the scandal and stars Maxine Peake as sexual health worker Sara, who recorded and reported cases of child abuse for years. Molly Windsor, Liv Hill and Ria Zmitrowicz feature as a trio of girls drawn into the frightening world of sexual exploitation.
The trial at Liverpool Crown Court in 2012 heard five girls - aged between 13 and 15 - were given alcohol, food and money in return for sex but there were times when violence was used.
Police said the victims were from “chaotic”, “council estate” backgrounds and as many as 50 girls could have been victims of the gang.
A chance to stop the gang was missed in 2008 and both the police and the CPS were forced to apologise for their failings.
The first victim, who was 15 when the abuse began, told the police what had been happening to her in August 2008. She specifically spoke of her abuse at the hands of two members of the gang who would later be jailed four years.
Her complaint was not taken seriously and she carried on being abused by the gang until December 2008 when she fell pregnant and moved away.
The gang of nine men received jail sentences of between four and 19 years from a judge who said they treated their victims “as though they were worthless and beyond any respect”.
The “patchy” training of frontline staff was to blame for the way children’s social care responded to the victims, the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children Board (RBSCB) said in its review into child sexual exploitation after the trial.
The picture which emerged was one of vulnerable young girls, some as young as 10, who were being targeted for sexual abuse and written off by authorities who believed the girls were “making their own choices”.
In 2014 an inquiry led by MP Ann Coffey suggested sexual exploitation of children had become “normal” on some streets and estates in Greater Manchester. The report also showed that more than 3,000 children under the age of 18 were reported missing in Greater Manchester in 2014.
One in five children and young people who go missing from home or care is at risk of serious harm, with “major concerns” about the links between children running away and the risks of child sexual exploitation, it said.
The grooming scandals in Rochdale and similar ones in other cities which involved Asian men, including Oxford and Rotherham, have fuelled fight-wing groups opposing multiculturalism and immigration.
Writing for HuffPost UK, chief executive Javed Khan of children’s charity Barnardo’s described Three Girls as “absolutely vital viewing.”
He said: “We now know that Rochdale was not an isolated case. Child sexual exploitation has been uncovered in towns, cities and counties all over the country and it affects both girls and boys from all backgrounds. It is committed by abusers from all walks of life, ethnicities, cultures and classes and it robs children of their childhoods and tears families apart.
“We need to remember and learn from the mistakes of the past to ensure they are not repeated. This kind of institutional neglect of a whole sector of society must never happen again and we need programmes like Three Girls to remind us.”