Children put at risk by Met’s shortcomings
Fundamental deficiencies in the way that the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) understands and responds to child abuse and sexual exploitation is putting children in London at risk, according to a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary.
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HMIC found that none of the borough or specialist teams assessed in this inspection was doing a good enough job in protecting children. The way the force handled the cases in almost three-quarters of files (278 of the 374 cases) examined by HMIC was found to require improvement or be inadequate. Thirty eight cases had to be referred back to the force, because they represented a continued risk to a child or children.
Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, Matt Parr said:
“We met many officers and staff in the Met who are dedicated men and women, working hard to prevent children from coming to harm. But we found serious errors of judgment, inconsistency, unacceptable delays and a lack of leadership which meant that children are not being protected properly.
“Additionally, the Met is the first police force we have inspected which has no chief officer responsible and accountable for child protection matters across the force. This absence of oversight of this crucial area is unacceptable and exacerbates the inconsistency we found in dealing with child protection.
“Far too many of the cases we looked at fell well short of expected standards and meant that victims weren’t protected, evidence was lost and offenders continued to pose a risk to children.
“We have made our findings known to the senior leadership team at the Met and they have told us that they take these failings very seriously and will be making considerable changes. We will go back to the Met next year and we will want to see that these promised changes are resulting in markedly better protection for children in the capital.”
In addition to the lack of a single chief officer responsible, other principal areas of concern HMIC inspectors identified included:
- In 38 cases of missing and absent children, 36 cases were judged as ‘requires improvement’ or ‘inadequate’. Officers and staff need to understand the link between children who regularly go missing and sexual exploitation.
- Of the 38 cases referred back to the Met because they placed a child or children at continued risk, the force had itself assessed one as ‘requires improvement’ and three as ‘inadequate’ and yet had taken no action.
- Of 40 custody cases, 39 resulted in the child being kept in custody, despite the stipulations of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act.
- HMIC was told that there was a greater focus on reducing crimes identified as priorities by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), such as burglary and vehicle theft, than on child protection.
- Officers and staff often do not properly assess or speak to children at significant risk of Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), meaning these children continue to be at risk of abuse.
- Officers were often unaware of registered sex offenders in their area and there were backlogs in visits to some registered sex offenders, including those who pose a very high risk to children.
- Information on child abuse victims, offenders and risks is too often kept in isolated IT systems across the force and so shared properly neither with partners such as local authorities nor even with fellow officers working in the next borough.
- Some staff in important roles, such as borough CSE officers, have limited awareness and had received no training in CSE.
Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor, said:
“Protecting the vulnerable, particularly children, is perhaps the most important job that police officers and staff undertake. Staff whose job it is to respond to and investigate these challenging and often distressing cases need to be competent, trained, and supported: this is not the case consistently in the Met.
“Of course, child protection is not the sole preserve of the police, but we found inexcusably poor practice at every stage of a child’s interaction with the police and across the parts of the force we inspected.
“It cannot be sensible that information is held in a fragmentary way across a variety of systems within one force. An offender or a child can pass easily across boroughs and cases often transcend borough boundaries; but the Met’s current set-up means that the police’s knowledge of the risks facing a particular child, or of the nature and extent of child abuse across London, is too often inconsistent and ineffective.
“The Met is a large and complex force but, nevertheless, the importance of the police getting this right and protecting children cannot be overstated.”
HMIC has made a number of recommendations to the MPS, some of which should be implemented immediately and others over the next three to six months. HMIC will return to the MPS next year to determine whether improvements in the leadership, practice and training of officers and staff have resulted in better protection for children.
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- HMIC is inspecting the child protection work of every police force in England and Wales. The reports are intended to provide information for the police, the police and crime commissioner and the public on how well children are protected and their needs are met, and to secure improvements for the future.
- Under the National Child Protection Inspection (NCPI) programme, HMIC will assess how effectively each force in England and Wales safeguards children and young people at risk, make recommendations to forces for improving child protection practice, highlight effective practice in child protection work and drive improvements in forces’ child protection practice.
- Follow up activity by HMIC is an integral part of the NCPI programme. It allows inspectors to assess the progress each force is making in its work to improve services for the safety and protection of children. HMIC aims to revisit each force no later than six months after the publication of the initial NCP inspection report to assess how it is managing the implementation of the recommendations.
- In July 2015, HMIC published ‘In harm’s way: the role of the police in keeping children safe’ – based on findings from 21 inspections on the police response to child protection conducted over the last two years. This incorporates inspections from the first eight forces inspected under the NCPI programme.
- HMIC is an independent inspectorate, inspecting policing in the public interest, and rigorously examines the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces to tackle crime and terrorism, improve criminal justice and raise confidence. HMIC inspects all 43 police forces in England and Wales, together with other major policing bodies.
- For further information, HMIC’s press office can be contacted during office hours from 8:30am – 5:00pm Monday – Friday on 020 3513 0600.
- HMIC’s out-of-hours press office line for urgent media enquiries is 07836 217 729.