The Metropolitan Police Service has risked the safety of hundreds of children because of "fundamental deficiencies" in its response to child abuse and sexual exploitation, a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of the Constabulary (HMIC) has found.
The inspection of child protection services in the Met was conducted as part of HMIC's ongoing programme of child protection inspections, it said.
In its damning report, HMIC said none of the London boroughs or specialist teams investigated were doing a good enough job in terms of child protection. It said that the handling of 278 of the 374 cases it reviewed could have been better or were "inadequate," while 38 were referred back to the force because the children involved remained at risk.
Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said of the review: "We found serious errors of judgement, inconsistency, unacceptable delays and a lack of leadership which meant that children are not being protected properly.
"Far too many of the cases we looked at fell well short of expected standards and meant that victims weren't protected, evidence was lost and offenders continued to pose a risk to children."
Of the failings identified by the review, the report said the force's response to children who regularly ran away from home was poor, in particular the "well-known" link between absconding children and sexual exploitation.
It also said there was a greater focus on reducing crimes such as burglary and criminal damage than on child protection. The report also highlighted insufficient training for officers dealing in child protection and a serious disconnect between the force and other relevant partners such as social services and the NHS, which could be improved simply by better IT systems, it said.
Parr also criticised the absence of a chief officer responsible for child protection matters, which is said was the first force in which they had encountered this. He added that the findings had been made known to the senior leadership team at the Met and that they expected to see major improvements in the next year.
"Inexcusably poor practice"
Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Thomas Winsor echoed Parr's criticism, saying: "We found inexcusably poor practice at every stage of a child's interaction with the police and across the parts of the force we inspected.
However, despite the report described by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan as "deeply troubling", the Metropolitan Police defended itself on Thursday, urging that the findings be considered in "the context of policing London."
It said, for example, crimes such as robbery against children, which had not been within the report's remit, had seen significant reductions. Though it did, however, promise change.
In a statement, the Met said: "This report is a significant moment for the Met as it has reinforced the need for the plans already in place to make changes to help provide a better service to vulnerable people, which includes children, across the capital. The Met will be using the report as a launch pad for a force-wide movement to change the approach to child protection..."
Yesterday it was reported that a Freedom of Information request by the BBC had revealed the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) was handling 187 investigating into police failures in child sex abuse cases.
46 of those related to cases handled by the Metropolitan Police, though this was by no means the highest number of complaints against a single force – 58 had been made against Essex Police, apparently.
However, in London, the BBC reported that In London, complaints made also focused on investigations being halted and evidence suppressed because the suspects in question were high-profile.