Met Police is 'failing exploited children': 'Lack of understanding' and 'victim-blaming language' by officers

“I’m deeply sorry to the children and families we have let down," said the Met Police's Commander Kevin Southworth.
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The Met Police is "leaving vulnerable children at risk of exploitation".

That is the conclusion of a damning new report by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS).

The watchdog said the Met’s lack of understanding of the nature and scale of child exploitation is a "significant barrier" to the force being able to tackle the issues.

The inspectorate said it found evidence of good work to protect children, including the online child sexual abuse, but its list of criticisms included the use of victim-blaming language by officers, the failure to understand the links between missing children and exploitation, a lack of skills among officers and delays in launching investigations.

The Met says it has taken steps to address issues raised in the report.

His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Lee Freeman said: “Children who are at risk of exploitation, or who go missing from home, are some of the most vulnerable in society. The police and other public services have a shared responsibility to look for the warning signs, be alert to the risks and act quickly to protect children.

“It is particularly concerning that the Metropolitan Police Service isn’t doing enough when children are suffering from, or at risk of, exploitation. The force should make sure that it fully understands the risks to children, and that officers and staff are equipped to identify and tackle those risks effectively, so no child is left unprotected.

“The Met has already committed to increasing the number of officers in some teams dealing with child exploitation. For the benefit of London’s children, the force should implement our recommendations in full and without delay.”

HMICFRS made 11 recommendations in areas including training and working effectively with safeguarding partners.

Commander Kevin Southworth, lead for public protection at the Met, said: “I’m deeply sorry to the children and families we have let down and want to reassure our communities that we are already taking significant steps to address these recommendations.

“We are putting more police resource into this area and retraining officers to have a better understanding of the complexities of child exploitation so we can continue our work to win back the trust of Londoners.”

The Met says that since October it has given more than 1200 officers training around spotting the signs of exploitation given additional training to 400 officers responsible for missing children investigations.

The force says 36 more officers have been hired in criminal and sexual exploitation investigation teams, with more to begin in April.

Between August and September 2023, 202 missing children were graded as ‘high risk’. That figure rose to 398 between December and January.

The force said additional training has addressed the use of victim-blaming language.