Earlier this month, as the UK Prime Minster was promising the establishment of a new specialist taskforce, where police officers with specialist experience of child sexual exploitation and grooming will be used to help local police forces to tackle such behaviour, we saw the publication on 5 April 2023 of a report by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), which stated that the police response to online child sexual abuse and exploitation is too often leaving vulnerable children at risk, and allowing offenders to escape justice.

The inspection reviewed the police response to online child sexual abuse and exploitation between February and August 2022 with a view to establishing how effective police forces, the National Crime Agency and regional organised crime units are at identifying and safeguarding children affected by online sexual abuse and exploitation, and it also sought to assess how effectively these organisations prevented and investigated this type of crime.

The report concluded that although officers are good at dealing with high-risk cases, the forces inspected are not as effective at responding to allegations or concerns about suspects, leading to unacceptable delays and missed opportunities. The inspection was also critical of the fact that many of the forces wait too long to share the information with relevant partners and again opportunities are missed to refer children and families on for support.

Inspectors found examples of police taking up to 18 months to make an arrest after becoming aware children were at risk of abuse.

While the inspectors noted that the rate of offences in this area is rising at an alarming rate, and it is difficult for the forces involved to keep up with these developments they were of the view that chief constables have more to do, to fully appreciate the scale of the problem.

The report made 17 recommendations aimed at improving the consistency of the police’s approach and the timeliness of their investigations, reducing the availability of child sexual abuse material, and getting better outcomes for children including:

  • introducing regional collaboration and oversight structures
  • introducing proper guidance for officers and staff
  • chief constables ensuring officers and staff are fully trained for their roles
  • ensuring forces can obtain search warrants quickly when children are at risk, and
  • online safety legislation should require the relevant companies to develop and use tools and technologies to identify child sexual abuse material and stop it getting on the internet

While the inspectors accepted that the Online Safety Bill represents a critical opportunity to tackle the growing amount of child sexual abuse material available online, they went on to say that chief constables can’t wait for this to be enacted and they act now in terms of understanding “…the demand that this risk places on their forces and the risks posed by offenders”.

This report raises the age old problem in this and many other areas of policing, the forces involved are not suitably trained and/or resourced to tackle this growing problem and in the absence of any meaningful budget provided to support the new specialist taskforce announced last week, it is hard to see how that task force will succeed, when existing forces are failing to deliver in this critical area of child protection.

The Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper MP, said: “This damning report shows the total failure by the Conservative government to make sure vulnerable children are protected from abuse and it shows how wholly inadequate and hollow all the promises were from Rishi Sunak and Suella Braverman this week.”

For those interested in reading the report please click here. see the attached link.