London police's tech slammed by watchdog for failing to protect children vulnerable to sexual abuse
The watchdog called for greater focus on early intervention on missing children cases iStock

London's police's IT system, allegedly riddled with issues, hindered efforts to protect children vulnerable to sexual abuse, according to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabularies (HMIC). On 25 November, the watchdog published a 113-page report, which revealed that the London Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has experienced issues with its IT systems, which affected the force's risk assessments as well as response to cases.

The police staff told HMIC that the data on the Met's Crime Recording Information System (CRIS), which stores information regarding the circumstances and level of vulnerability of children, was "not easy to locate" and "complicated". Staffers claimed that the system was "neither universally adhered to not universally understood."

"It is clear to inspectors that the majority of specialist staff responsible for managing child abuse investigations are knowledgeable, skilled, committed and motivated. Despite this, there are inconsistencies and significant weaknesses in the service the MPS provides to vulnerable children in a wide range of areas," the report stated.

The report also noted that the MPS was the "first force" inspected that had no chief officer appointed responsible for "all child protection matters across the force". HMIC said, "This absence of oversight cannot be justified; it exacerbates the inconsistency of officers' responses to child protection cases and the inconsistency in how the force works with partner organisations across London."

"Also, it means that there is limited force-wide oversight of how well the MPS understands or responds to demands and outcomes in relation to child protection," the report said.

The report also highlighted that the MPS IT issues also affected the force's risk assessment and its response. HMIC found that in numerous cases, police fell short of comprehending and accessing the intelligence by the system and made inaccurate assessments. Some cases were found classified as only "medium risk of harm on the basis that the children in question were 'streetwise and able to take care of themselves'."

In one particular incident, the case of a 13 year old girl, who went missing overnight, was assessed as being at medium risk because she was "streetwise", the Register reported. The assessment was made despite the Met's communications centre having received a report which claimed that the child was "alone and unsafe in a house with three men."

Moreover, connectivity issues with the MPS' IT system lead to the information languishing in an email box for 14 hours "before the force acted on it."

The report found, "Too many cases fell well short of the expected standards required for a good investigation. Many took too long to progress and had no effective supervisory oversight, resulting in a lack of protection for victims, loss of evidence, and continuing risk from offenders."

HMIC called for improvements in the force's response and an increased focus on early intervention, "ensuring that officers and staff understand the link between children who regularly go missing and sexual exploitation." The watchdog is slated to reassess the force in 2017 to see how the MPS "is managing the implementation of its response to all of the recommendations."