A whistleblower who resigned from Greater Manchester Police has told Sky News the force's child protection investigation unit where she worked is "not fit for purpose" and that failures have left a paedophile ring at large for at least seven years.
In her resignation letter last year, she said: "I don't feel like we're making things better for these kids. In fact, I think we're making it worse."
She also said that her work with the victims only served to "re-traumatise them" and "leave them hanging".
Assigned a major operation into child sex offenders in Manchester in 2022, the detective constable we are calling "Lucy" says failures could have allowed the continuation of what she says "professionals have called some of the worst abuse they've ever seen".
She first noticed a problem when she picked up the investigation and realised there had been two previous complaints involving the same suspects and other children, dating back to 2018. One where the case had been closed.
She told Sky News: "A lot of the professional material such as children's records, medical records and school records had not been requested, had not been read because if they had, they would say that many of the children had reported multiple disclosures of sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect and psychological torture."
The 2018 case was reopened. Lucy realised she was leading a complex investigation with very young victims, whose trust she needed to gain, but says she was managing numerous caseloads and was not given the time or the resources to do the job.
She said: "I wanted to go and see them regularly, but the time just wasn't made available to me. And so, you'd go and speak to them, you'd bring it all back up, re-traumatise them, and then you'd leave them hanging.
"I had a Teams meeting with the DCI. He's making all these promises to me. 'I'll get you the resources'. It just didn't happen."
She added: "You just got a lot of shoulder shrugging. You know, 'it's out of my hands' sort of thing.
"I know that superintendent level knew about this. So it goes that far up. You start to realise it doesn't matter how far up you go, nobody's going to listen."
Last week a report into Greater Manchester Police (GMP) found multiple failures in a grooming gang investigation in Rochdale over a decade ago.
At a news conference, Chief Constable Steve Watson said "lessons had been learned", but Maggie Oliver, the detective who blew the whistle on the scandal, said he was wrong - and told the room about recently resigned officer Lucy.
Speaking directly to the chief constable sat in front of her, Ms Oliver said: "That officer could have been me 12 years ago.
"She had been banging on doors. She has been desperately trying to get a very serious case where many, many children are being abused, taken seriously."
'It's still happening'
Lucy says the force hasn't learned from its failings.
"It is still happening. It's appalling the treatment these victims get… And it's not just failing the victims, it's failing the community."
She says she felt she had "the workload of six or seven people", and that she was encouraged to focus on just two victims rather than look at the bigger picture, which echoes complaints made by Ms Oliver in the Rochdale case over a decade ago. Although GMP has subsequently told us it is investigating a larger number of victims.
Lucy says it began to impact her mental health.
"I just felt like my head was buzzing. I felt like I couldn't sleep, even though I was exhausted. At one point I felt like I was losing my marbles, and it was just too much for me.
"I thought, I can't change anything. I can't keep saying the same thing. It's draining the life out of me.
"The thought that I was failing them, it was just too much for me."
After five years in the force, Lucy resigned, putting in a formal complaint about the investigation.
She says: "I sent an email. I said this resourcing issue is bigger than all of us. I said, 'But I don't feel like we're making things better for these kids. In fact, I think we're making it worse.'
"And I said, 'I don't think this child protection unit is fit for purpose'. And my inspector didn't even speak to me about it. She just pretended like it hadn't happened."
She says morale among the other staff is low.
"It's just awful. You know, people just want to leave. People are crying because of the problem and in my exit interview, I said 'you haven't got enough staff'."
Calls for serious case review
She is now calling for a serious case review into the investigation she was working on.
"I think a lot of offenders were involved. I think if they were allowed to follow the lines of inquiry, I think they would find it was a massive, massive job. It's a paedophile ring. That's what I think it is," she says.
"It's 20 months since I was involved. It's seven years since the first child came forward. So that's a failure."
A GMP spokesperson said: "We are concerned to hear how this former detective feels about this operation.
"GMP has a significant number of officers across the force working in child protection roles, with large increases in staff allocated to these roles in recent years. It is absolutely accurate to say that the situation is much different to GMP's approach in the past.
"However, we are not complacent. The former officer escalated her concerns to the chief constable's office last week.
"The issues raised, and the investigation mentioned, are being reviewed by a detective superintendent and the assistant chief constable who holds the public protection and serious crime portfolio."
They added: "In respect of this case, crucially, we can confirm that the children in question had been subject to safeguarding arrangements for several years before reports of non-recent abuse were made.
"The children involved were protected and are all safe and well and have been throughout the course of the investigation.
"A team of four officers continue to investigate reports of domestic incidents. Two suspects remain under investigation and reviews have been taking place every six weeks since January 2023."