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Vulnerable children at risk as Met Police ‘too slow’ on missing cases, says watchdog

An inspectorate has urged the force to make ‘urgent improvements’ to its handling of child protection

Gwyn Wright,Matt Mathers
Friday 06 October 2023 21:48 BST
The Metropolitan Police is not responding effectively to missing and exploited children, an inspectorate has found (PA)
The Metropolitan Police is not responding effectively to missing and exploited children, an inspectorate has found (PA) (PA Archive)

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.

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.

The inspectorate said it is “particularly concerned” about “frequent use of victim-blaming language” which can hamper police investigations and leave youngsters unprotected.

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 force’s guidance for dealing with missing people was found to lack a clear explanation of what “high risk” means.

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.

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.

File photo: Inspectorate says that, because two of the concerns are so serious, it is publishing them now in an accelerated causes of concern letter

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 31 December.

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.

It should also ensure “disruption activities” are “appropriate” when an alleged victim does not support an investigation and that the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales is complied with, the inspectorate added.

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.”

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