Met police still failing on child protection policies, report finds

The Metropolitan police failed to adequately improve the way they followed child protection policies, despite repeatedly being told they were leaving children in danger, an official report found.

Over 90% of 135 cases inspected were substandard, said Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS). In one case, a 15-year-old missing girl was found at the address of a registered sex offender. Other children who were in care and at risk of child sexual exploitation were also there.

The high workload on officers resulting from cuts to the force’s budget was held partly responsible for the problems.

The areas of concern covered domestic abuse, police powers to protect children, sex offender management, missing children, child sexual exploitation (CSE), and the detention of children in police custody.

In November 2016, the inspectorate found wholesale failings by Britain’s largest police force and announced a humiliating series of quarterly inspections for the Met’s child protection services – the equivalent of special measures.

For its third quarterly update, the HMICFRS examined 135 cases as a snapshot of how the force was doing. It found: “Just under 93% demonstrated policing practice that either needed improvement or was inadequate.”

It assessed that 10 cases were handled well, 64 needed improvement and 61 were inadequate.

The report said: “The improvements and consistency in practice that have been articulated clearly in the expectations set by senior officers via numerous forums, including the force’s action plan, are not yet being realised.”

The inspectorate said the Met did not attend a meeting with social services who were concerned the children may have been sexually exploited, and there were no records of the police taking measures to prevent further danger from the sex offender.

The inspectorate said: “On 19 July 2017, the MPS’ [Metropolitan police service] audit highlighted these failings. By 14 August 2017, when HMICFRS reviewed the case, there had been no documented response to the recommendations made by the MPS. This case was referred back to the force.”

The inspectorate found some improvements and plans to improve further but also found inappropriate comments from officers about missing children.

The report revealed one officer said of a missing child: “It’s what they always do,” which the inspectorate said indicated “a lack of recognition of the additional risks associated with children who frequently go missing”.

Senior officers had put in plans for improvements, and to check they were being carried out. But the inspectorate found there were still failings, the report said. “The HMICFRS review conducted on 135 MPS child protection cases has identified that there are still significant weaknesses in the force’s current practice in relation to child protection,” it read.

With the Met facing cuts of £400m, leading to claims it could become further stretched and lose more officers, the inspectorate said: “In several cases, high workload was recorded as the cause for delays in investigative action.”

The report called for an assistant commissioner in the Met, the equivalent of a senior chief constable in another force, to be given responsibility for child safeguarding. It added: “The number of weaknesses uncovered in too many of the cases examined in this quarter continues to reflect those which we reported in 2016.”

The Met said: “We recognise the urgency of improving our services, but we know that delivering real and sustainable improvements in every aspect of our delivery will take time to achieve. Our improvement plans are kept under continual review and the findings of this most recent HMICFRS report will be carefully considered as part of this process.

Of 18 cases referred back to it during the latest inspection, the Met said: “Safeguarding risks had been addressed and no children were found to be at further risk.”