Three senior Scotland Yard officers could be sacked over failures by police investigating the crimes of sex attacker Kirk Reid.
The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) said the managers failed to make the case a priority as Reid stalked the streets of Wandsworth, south west London.
A report found the officers did not allocate sufficient resources to catch the attacker or get a grip on the sprawling case during a bungled six-year inquiry.
It focused on the failings of senior managers as other crimes in the borough - robberies, street crime and burglary - were given priority, and the sex inquiry was allowed to drift.
The officers, a superintendent and two inspectors, will now face a misconduct panel after independent officials undertook a step-by-step review of what went wrong.
It is the second time Scotland Yard has been hauled over the coals by the IPCC for failings in the response of its officers to sex attackers.
Earlier this year the force was criticised for failing to take the victims of taxi driver rapist John Worboys seriously and not working harder to link his distinctive crimes.
Deborah Glass, of the IPCC, said managers were responsible for a "sustained failure" to tackle a long-standing pattern of offences in one London borough.
She said: "The failure to take a serial sex offender off the streets of London years earlier is a shameful chapter in the history of the Metropolitan Police.
"When considered alongside the failings in the case of John Worboys, their overall effect on the confidence of the victims of sexual offences in the police response cannot be overstated.
"That is damaging not only for victims, but for the many dedicated officers who have worked hard to make a difference."
Football coach Reid, 45, was jailed for life last year for 27 sexual offences, many of which took place along the A24 corridor in Clapham, Balham and Tooting.
Police suspect he could be responsible for a further 100 crimes in which women were attacked in the street at night and indecently assaulted.
Independent officials questioned eight officers in management roles under caution after an internal review found police missed chances to stop Reid in 2002 and 2004.
Reid was caught within hours of the case being passed from borough officers to detectives at the force's specialist crime directorate in January 2008.
The report said Wandsworth officers focused on the wrong man after the crime series was first identified in 2002 and persisted with him even after DNA checks ruled him out.
Officials criticised the work of a superintendent responsible for "crime management" in the borough for three years during which dozens of offences were apparently brought to his attention.
They found the superintendent, who will face a misconduct panel, cleared more than 50 files off his desk in December 2005, telling a more junior officer he did not want to see them back.
The two detective inspectors, who were responsible for the borough's Sapphire unit, which specialised in investigating sex crimes, will face a misconduct panel.
They were criticised for allegedly failing to act on a 2004 crime report identifying Reid and for allocating insufficient resources to the inquiry.
A chief superintendent received "words of advice" for failing to allocate more resources even though he believed specialist officers should have been brought in earlier.
A detective sergeant received the same low-level punishment for failing to identify Reid as a suspect during a four-week review of the inquiry in October 2004.
The IPCC review underlined missed opportunities to catch Reid that emerged during his trial at Kingston Crown Court last year.
Police stopped Reid in December 2002 after watching him follow a woman they suspected he was going to rob.
His name was added to a police database but no further action was taken as investigators focused on another prime suspect.
In January 2004, a man dialled 999 to report a man in a red VW Golf had assaulted a woman and the registration number was traced to Reid.
A month later Reid was flagged up by a junior officer as a potential suspect for five indecent assaults.
By now Reid was among three key suspects for the offences but his DNA was not taken, despite samples being recovered from some victims.
A surveillance camera was put above his front door in April 2004 but only recorded for a week due to technical problems.
Later that year, senior officers held further meetings to review the crimes, but Reid's name had fallen off their list of suspects.
IPCC officials said detectives continued to focus on another prime suspect in 2005, despite the fact DNA evidence ruled him out.
Reid's name cropped up again in October 2006 after further analytical work listed 11 suspects.
But his DNA was not taken, even though he was one of only three suspects whose profile was not held by police.
The IPCC said the inquiry was then left with no-one working on it as one detective was assigned to chasing robbers and another took a "career break".
Reid was identified as the prime suspect within hours of the file being handed to specialist officers in January 2008 and he was arrested three days later.
Mrs Glass added: "The lack of resources allocated to the investigation, pressure in relation to performance and targets, and the constant change of heads of department undoubtedly did not help.
"But in my view none of these factors provides real mitigation for the sustained failure by senior supervisory officers to give this investigation the priority it required and to get a grip on what was plainly a long-standing pattern of terrifying offences committed within a single borough."
Commander Maxine de Brunner, of the Metropolitan Police, apologised to Reid's victims for failing to catch him more quickly.
She said the force had overhauled its response to sex crimes as a result of the Reid and Worboys' cases.
Mrs de Brunner said a new command unit was now responsible for co-ordinating inquiries into 6,000 sex crimes every year.
She said: "A rise in recorded crimes suggests that there is a greater awareness amongst the general public about rape investigations and as a result more victims have come forward to report sexual assaults.
"However, the Met is not complacent. We understand and seek to ensure that victims of rape are treated properly and sensitively.
"They must feel reassured that every possible line of inquiry has been exhausted in an attempt to bring any offender to justice."Reuse content