Metropolitan Police leaving vulnerable children at risk, inspectorate warns

Vulnerable children are being put at risk by the way the UK’s largest police force handles child protection, an inspectorate has found.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said the Metropolitan Police is not responding adequately when children go missing.

The force is also said to not be effectively investigating cases where a child is at risk of or is being harmed by criminal gangs or sexual predators.

Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan asked the inspectorate to look into the Met’s handling of vulnerable children (PA)

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan had asked the inspectorate to look at the Met’s handling of criminal and sexual exploitation of children before producing a report due next year.

The inspectorate has said that, because two of the concerns are so serious, it is publishing them now in an accelerated causes of concern letter.

It found officers are often too slow to locate missing children and do not always visit them once home to work out why they disappeared.

In some cases officers do not try and locate the missing child at all, the inspectorate added.

Officers responsible for grading risk were found to often have a limited understanding of the links between children who go missing regularly and criminal or sexual exploitation.

The letter also said: “We are particularly concerned about the frequency with which officers and staff use victim-blaming language.

“This highlights that officers and staff may not fully understand the potential risks to children.

“This lack of understanding can result in ineffective police investigations, with important lines of inquiry being overlooked and children left unprotected.”

Officers were also found to often be too slow to investigate cases of children being put at risk of or facing criminal or sexual exploitation and do not always make “reasonable lines of inquiry” once an investigation has begun.

They often do not consult parents or carers and are often unwilling to progress a case without their support, the inspectorate added.

Officers often also failed to comply with the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales by completing a victim needs assessment.

The inspectorate has urged the force to make “urgent improvements” to its handling of the issue across both areas by December 31.

It has said all officers must be properly trained to grade the risks each missing child is exposed to, appropriately assess risk in all cases and investigate cases where children go missing “effectively from the first point of contact” in a proportionate way.

The watchdog has also said child exploitation cases should be assigned to officers with the right levels of knowledge and skills and follow all reasonable lines of inquiry to identify suspects and pursue evidence-led prosecutions.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Lee Freeman said: “The role of the police in protecting children from harm should not be understated.

“Children who go missing, or are at risk of exploitation, are some of the most vulnerable in society.

“It is therefore concerning that the Metropolitan Police’s current approach to child protection requires immediate attention.

“Whilst we observed positive examples of good work by committed officers and staff, the force needs to do much more to ensure it responds effectively to missing children and those subjected to exploitation.

“The force must make sure that it is focused on the risks to children, and that officers and staff are also equipped to deal with those risks.

“We have made two recommendations for the Metropolitan Police to address these accelerated concerns, and we will closely monitor the force’s progress.”

The force’s lead for public protection Commander Kevin Southworth said: “Children are among the most vulnerable in our society and I am deeply concerned by the HMICFRS’ findings that show that too often we are letting them down.

“Our officers want to keep children and young people safe – but we recognise they have not had the right support to do this every time.

“Officers need the time and resource to listen to children and investigate the bigger picture around the circumstances they have come into contact with the police to then identify abuse and exploitation.

“Our Children and Young People’s strategy will support officers to see children as children first and foremost and recognise their individual needs.

“We’re also providing more resource for our emergency response officers and investigative teams, as well as better training, and we’re determined to work more closely with expert partners.”

Mr Khan said: “It’s clear from the inspectorate’s findings that the pace of change must significantly improve to ensure children are better protected by the Met Police in our communities and online.

“I see police reform as a critical part of my mayoralty and am committed to supporting and holding the commissioner and Met to account on delivering the urgent improvements needed.”

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