The police force at the centre of the Rotherham abuse scandal criticised for turning a blind eye to the sexual exploitation of 1,400 children has been further rebuked for “weaknesses” in its child protection procedures and inspectors say officers let down children in care homes.

South Yorkshire police had “limited understanding” of the risk posed by offenders who target vulnerable children, while officers showed an inconsistent response to child sexual exploitation, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said.

Inspectors found that officers had failed to tell social services when two 13-year-old girls went missing from their care homes. Both had been identified as at risk of being exploited for sex. But when one breached her bail condition to stay at the care home, she was arrested after being found at the home of a sex offender with condoms in her possession.

“There was no record of children’s social care services being notified, her parents being informed or an appropriate adult or solicitor sought. Furthermore, there was no indication of any enquiries about the man in whose home she was found, or any evidence of a risk assessment being completed,” said an HMIC inspector.

In another case, staff from a children’s home reported that three young girls were at the flat of an older man. It took 11 hours for police to go to the flat, where they found the girls. Although officers recorded that a child abduction warning notice should be considered to prevent the man having further contact with the girls, this had not been served one month later.

Another failure concerned a 14-year-old girl reported missing by her grandmother after she failed to return from school. Police records indicated she had run away 40 times before and was considered at risk of child sexual exploitation. But rather than making a safeguarding plan, officers simply noted that the grandmother no longer had any control over this vulnerable girl, and other agencies were unable to provide any further help to the family.

The inspector of constabulary, Dru Sharpling, said: “We are concerned that force practice is inconsistent so not all children receive the standard of treatment they deserve.” She added: “We were also concerned about the lack of understanding of the risk posed by offenders who target vulnerable children, and shortcomings in the protection of children in care.”

There were particular shortcomings in care homes in Doncaster, one of four districts covered by the force, inspectors said.

Overall, HMIC inspected 55 South Yorkshire police cases involving children deemed as “at risk”. Twenty were inadequate, one was poor, 20 were good and 14 were adequate.

South Yorkshire police came under heavy fire after Professor Alexis Jay’s report revealed at least 1,400 children were abused in Rotherham over 16 years and criticised officers for “regarding many child victims with contempt”.

Jay’s findings led to the resignation of South Yorkshire’s police and crime commissioner, Shaun Wright, who fought calls for him to stand down despite being responsible for children’s services during a lengthy period covered by the damning report.

A previous HMIC report said officers in South Yorkshire police’s public protection unit, which deals with rape and serious sexual assault, spent a “great deal of time” trying to “disprove” the word of victims.

South Yorkshire police welcomed the recommendations of the inspection and said inconsistencies highlighted by the report regarding the force’s response to child sexual exploitation were being addressed.

Assistant chief constable Ingrid Lee said steps being taken to address the issues, including a central referral unit for referrals relating to children, multi-agency teams in every district, a liaison officer to engage with children in care in Doncaster, polygraph tests for known sex offenders and more information about child sex offenders and domestic abuse being shared with the public.

Lee said: “We understand the complexities of child sexual exploitation and we don’t shy away from difficult investigations. All victims receive the highest standards of service possible.

“If we find evidence that appropriate action has not been taken we will ensure that it is dealt with properly and robustly.”

David Gibbs of specialist child abuse solicitors Jordans, based in West Yorkshire, said “As with the earlier report from Professor Jay, the report from HMIC is damning of how South Yorkshire Police have dealt with the reports and allegations of child sexual exploitation and grooming.

“It remains to be seen whether the recommendations highlighted within the report and addressed by Assistance Chief Constable Lee are now taken on board, to ensure that travesties of this nature do not occur again”.

Article Source: The Guardian 30/09/14

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