Report exposing Met police failings on child sex abuse ‘shocking’

The minister for policing has described the official watchdog’s report exposing the Metropolitan police’s failings on tackling child sex abuse cases as “the most damning of any report they had ever written on any police force in the country”.

Brandon Lewis said the findings of the report by Her Majesty’s Inspection of Constabulary were shocking, and said the home secretary, Amber Rudd, had ordered the publication of quarterly follow-up inspection reports into how Britain’s police were tackling the issue.

Lewis was responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons by the shadow home secretary, Diane Abbott, who said the Met’s failings together with the “crumbling” nature of the official inquiry into sex abuse raised serious questions about the government’s commitment to tackling child sex abuse.

The HMIC report said hundreds are children were being left at risk of sexual exploitation and rape because of systemic failings by Britain’s biggest police force. Three-quarters of child protection and abuse cases were poorly handled and involved shocking failures including errors in leadership, training, organisation and judgment.

Among the worst examples was a failure to interview a 10-year-old girl who may have been abused by her father and who had witnessed her mother being raped and stabbed with a screwdriver.

In the Commons, Abbott said the report, following another damning review, had found numerous errors in Scotland Yard’s Operation Midland investigation, in a week in which the largest group of survivors, the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association, had withdrawn from the child sex abuse inquiry.

“This is a shocking report. The home secretary cannot hide behind the mayor. Looking at child sex abuse in its totality, looking at how the child sex abuse inquiry seems to be crumbling, the public would be forgiven for asking how seriously does this government really take the issue of child sex abuse.”

But the policing minister insisted in the Commons that ministers were tackling the issue. He said the HMIC report was “the most damning report that the HMIC has ever written on any police force in the country”.

Lewis told MPs the home secretary had spoken to the London mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Thursday to ensure that “swift action” followed its damning verdict and had asked HMIC to publish quarterly reports detailing what, if any, progress was made by the Met police. He said it would be a priority for the incoming Met commissioner in the new year.

The Met’s assistant commissioner, Martin Hewitt, told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 that the force accepted the HMIC’s findings. “There is no doubt that level of inadequacy is something that is really troubling,” he said, adding that the report would be a “launchpad for change”.

Matt Parr, lead inspector for HMIC, said his team found shocking failures and pointed out that in more than 10% of cases problems were so alarming there was ongoing risk to child safety.

“We had to send 38 of them straight back to the Met immediately because of the severity of what they contained of leaving children at risk,” he told Today.

But Hewitt said none of the 38 urgent cases had resulted in criminal charges. “We set a team up as soon as we became of the findings to look at every one of those cases. In all of those cases that were sent back that were so worrying to the HMIC, we have looked at all of those, and in none of those cases have we identified further risk, and we haven’t charged or cautioned anyone,” he said.