Children put at risk to 'avoid jeopardising investigations'

Vulnerable children were left at risk from potential sex offenders because Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) detectives did not want to jeopardise their investigations, a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has found.

Sep 1, 2021
By Tony Thompson
Matt Parr

The report found that, since the last review of the force’s child protection services in 2018, a number of improvements had been made. These included increasing the number of staff managing registered sex offenders, and better recognition of the needs of vulnerable children coming into police custody.

However, HMICFRS said progress had been slow in some areas and that some children in custody were not being transferred to care quickly enough. There was also ‘acute’ concerns about how the force investigates online abuse and the viewing and sharing of indecent images of children.

In addition, some officers and staff in the unit did not have the right experience and had not been given specialist child abuse investigation training.

HMICFRS examined force policies, strategies and other documents, and interviewed officers and staff at various levels in planned and unannounced sessions. It also audited 170 child protection cases and found 54 (32 per cent) were good, 63 (37 per cent) needed improvement and 53 (31 per cent) were inadequate.

The report highlighted instances where police investigators delayed alerting children’s social care to children living in a house with someone who was uploading images of child abuse, because they did not want to jeopardise the investigation – potentially leaving children at risk.

“Some staff said they are under significant pressures. They identified workloads, staff capability and supply of detectives with the right experience as contributing factors. It was evident that some of these pressures affect both staff welfare and their investigations.”

The report noted that the proliferation of electronic devices seized from suspects for forensic examination of stored indecent images meant there was sometimes insufficient capacity for all devices to be examined.

The report added: “We also found concerning delays in uploading images of child abuse to the national child abuse image database (CAID). We do not underestimate the size of this task. For instance, in one case, there were millions of images to review, classify and upload.

“But delays in this process mean delays to all parts of the system designed to tag new photos, identify them on online platforms and remove them. It also potentially means victims are not identified and safeguarded as quickly as they should be. This is a national problem, which we intend to inspect in more detail.”

Matt Parr, Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary said: “The MPS has made some progress in how it keeps children safe since our last review in 2018, and we continue to see examples of good work by individual officers – but the pace of change has at times been slow.

“There is still much more work to do to provide better outcomes for vulnerable children in London – from more quickly identifying and protecting any children at risk from offenders, to undertaking a skills audit to identify what specialist training officers need.

“We are assured that the Metropolitan Police has plans in place to continue making improvements, and we will closely monitor their performance. If we think it is needed, we will increase our scrutiny of the force’s child protection services.”

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