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Metropolitan Police leaving vulnerable children at risk of exploitation, report says

The Metropolitan Police Service’s response to the criminal and sexual exploitation of children is not currently effective, with the force not doing enough when children are suffering from, or at risk of, exploitation, a new report has found.

13/02/24

Metropolitan Police leaving vulnerable children at risk of exploitation, report says

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) said that the Met’s lack of understanding of the nature and scale of child exploitation is a significant barrier to the force being able to tackle the problem effectively.

The inspectorate was commissioned by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London to inspect the Metropolitan Police Service’s handling of child sexual and criminal exploitation.

During the inspection, HMICFRS identified serious concerns with the Met’s approach to child protection. Because they were so serious, the inspectorate reported them in October 2023 prior to the inspection being completed. These are known as accelerated causes of concern*. In today’s report, the inspectorate has issued a further cause of concern and made nine additional recommendations to help ensure children are better protected in future.

The inspectorate did however say it had found evidence of good work to protect children, including the Met’s online child sexual abuse and exploitation teams.

However, the inspectorate described other serious concerns including officers failing to identify exploitation or to understand the links between missing children and exploitation.

Inspectors also found the presence of ‘victim-blaming’ language among officers and staff; and also that when children go missing regularly, the force’s response is frequently poor, with officers and staff simply waiting for them to turn up.

The force was also found to often use officers and staff to investigate child exploitation who don’t have the skills or knowledge to do this effectively, with supervisors also lacking the right knowledge and experience. They also found delays in starting and progressing investigations, and many missed opportunities to identify suspects and disrupt their activity, leaving children exposed to risk.

As a result of the report, HMICFRS has made a number of recommendations to the Met, including providing more effective training to all officers and staff who interact with children, and encouraging officers and staff of all ranks to challenge victim-blaming language.

“Children who are at risk of exploitation, or who go missing from home, are some of the most vulnerable in society,” His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Lee Freeman said. “The police and other public services have a shared responsibility to look for the warning signs, be alert to the risks and act quickly to protect children.

“It is particularly concerning that the Metropolitan Police Service isn’t doing enough when children are suffering from, or at risk of, exploitation. The force should make sure that it fully understands the risks to children, and that officers and staff are equipped to identify and tackle those risks effectively, so no child is left unprotected.

“The Met has already committed to increasing the number of officers in some teams dealing with child exploitation. For the benefit of London’s children, the force should implement our recommendations in full and without delay.”

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