Following its inspection of the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS), His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has issued two accelerated ‘causes of concern’ with urgent recommendations in relation to child victims of exploitation. The causes of concern have been issued ahead of their highly anticipated report which is expected to be published in early 2024.
The accelerated causes of concern have been issued as a result of significant failures within the MPS to:
- Identify and assess risk appropriately, and to respond adequately, when children are reported missing
- Carry out sufficiently effective investigations when children are at risk of, or harmed, by criminal or sexual exploitation.
HMICFRS found that often, when children were reported missing, the MPS did not take account of the risk posed to them or the harm they may suffer. There was a limited understanding of the link between children who were regularly reported as missing and criminal and sexual exploitation by many of the staff responsible for assessing the level of risk. HMICFRS were particularly concerned about the regular use of victim-blaming language by both officers and staff within the MPS and the implications that this had for effective investigations into the perpetrators of exploitation. They concluded that the MPS did not act quickly enough, if at all, to locate children who were reported as missing regularly to make sure that they were safe and, when they did return home, there was frequently no attempt to see them in person to try to understand why they went missing.
When it came to investigating cases of child criminal and sexual exploitation, HMICFRS found that in many cases, the MPS failed to investigate promptly. They did not always complete reasonable lines of enquiry and on several occasions, no investigation plan was put in place at all. The MPS frequently failed to update children and their caregivers during investigations and, when children and young people didn’t support an investigation, they didn’t always consider progressing the case without their support.
HMICFRS has made a number of recommendations, which include ensuring that those responsible for assessing the risk posed to missing children are adequately trained and that reports of missing children are effectively managed from the first point of contact. Those who are responsible for exploitation investigations should have the appropriate knowledge and skills and evidence-led prosecutions should be pursued where a victim does not support an investigation.
Sadly, for those of us who work with, or support, victims of exploitation, it is unlikely that these findings will come as a surprise. The ‘causes for concern’ come 7 years after HMICFRS issued warnings that the MPS were failing to safeguard children. Child exploitation remains a serious, national issue with the Home Office reporting the highest number of referrals to the NRM since the NRM began in 2022. It is widely recognised that one of the key signs of child exploitation is regular missing periods and it is disconcerting to see that many of those who are responsible for assessing risk have a limited understanding of the link between the two. The approach that has been taken by the MPS towards children and young people who are regularly reported missing is deeply troubling as is the continued use of victim-blaming language. It is a clear indication of the continued failure to see children and young people as children first. We await confirmation as to the steps that the MPS will take to address these causes for concern as well as HMCFRS’ full report which is expected in early 2024.
Written by Sabrina Neves, Solicitor at GT Stewart Solicitors