New series gives grooming victims a voice

Of vital importance to everyone involved in making the drama is that “the public really understand how grooming works”, writes Susan Griffin

Liv Hill, Maxine Peake and Ria Zmitrowicz in upcoming new series Three Girls. Picture: PA Photo/BBC/Sophie Mutevelian

IN 2012, nine men were jailed for up to 25 years each for sexually exploiting teenage girls in the Rochdale area of the UK between 2005 and 2013.

Susan Hogg, executive producer of Three Girls, a new drama about three of the victims, remembers listening to one of the girls being interviewed after the trial.

“She was only 19 then and she was so dignified and so strong,” Hogg says. “You start to ask questions that couldn’t be answered in that interview. Why was this allowed to go on for so long? Why were the girls not listened to? And what was the nature of grooming? I really couldn’t understand it.”

She had already worked on Five Daughters, a drama about the victims of the Ipswich murders in 2006, with the director Philippa Lowthorpe and fellow producer Simon Lewis, and the trio began talking about this case and the questions it raised.

Scriptwriter Nicole Taylor spent a lot of time travelling to Rochdale “getting to know the girls, getting to know the families, trying to understand in detail what happened from a multitude of points of view”.

“I was just looking back at my notebook from the very first meeting I had with the girls and almost everything that’s on the page is in there [the drama],” says the writer, who also studied court transcripts and spoke to the whistle blowers, the prosecutor Nazir Afzal and Andrew Norfolk, the Times journalist who broke the story.

“People were overwhelmingly keen to talk. I think there was the sense, certainly among the victims, of years of not being listened to, so that’s been one of the major motivations for me, that they really wanted this story told.”

In the three-part drama, we meet Holly (Molly Windsor). New to Rochdale and keen to make friends, she finds herself drawn into a world she can’t escape, despite her pleas for help.

It’s a world all too familiar to sexual health worker Sara Rowbotham, who had been recording and reporting cases of child abuse for years.

Rowbotham ultimately lifted the lid on how the victims were being failed by authorities.

Maxine Peake, who starred in Silk and The Village, plays Rowbotham. “I wanted to become involved because I thought it was a story that needed to be told. This is a story about a swathe of society that has constantly been ignored and bullied,” says the actress. “I think Sara was frustrated and angry because of the injustice that was happening to these young girls. Sara said, ‘You start to think you’re losing your mind because the powers that be are not helping you’.

“They weren’t encouraging her, they were shutting doors, people were telling her to be quiet. They weren’t interested. She was doing this work on her own up to a point and nobody seemed at all interested in helping these young girls who were in desperate situations.”

Of vital importance to everyone involved in making the drama is that “the public really understand how grooming works”, adds Hogg.

“We’re hoping the audience — parents, young girls and boys — will see the pattern; they’ll recognise the pattern as it’s happening to them and they’ll know when to withdraw because they’ll know where it can lead. That’s one of the reasons for making this programme and I’m hoping that will have an effect.”

Peake agrees: “It wasn’t a depressing set to be on. It felt full of hope.

“It felt like you were doing something that had hope for the future, for the next generation of girls that hopefully will be protected from this. And the girls who’ve been through it, who are now young women, will be able to move on with their lives.”

Three Girls begins on BBC One on Thursday, May 16

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