Sussex Police not always pursuing lines of enquiry in child abuse cases, report says

The report was the first of its kind for Sussex
The report was the first of its kind for Sussex

Child protection is a ‘top priority’ for Sussex Police but inspectors have raised concerns about some work the force is doing in that area.

Inspectors from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) assessed Sussex Police’s child protection provision for the first time recently and gave a report.

They were impressed by the commitment of senior leaders to improving service for all children, but warned the force had more work to do.

Responding to the report, Sussex Police welcomed the recommendations and said they are already being acted upon.

Assistant chief constable Nick May, head of local policing, said: “Over the last ten years, there has been a significant increase in reports of children needing protection and this report is a valuable source of advice and direction to further improve our response and performance in this vital area of policing.”

‘No record of an investigation into the report’

HM inspector of constabulary Zo� Billingham

HM inspector of constabulary Zo� Billingham

Inspectors said they found that officers working with vulnerable children have been ‘taking shortcuts to close some cases as quickly as possible’ because of heavy caseloads.

And worryingly, in cases where an individual had been caught with indecent images of children, inspectors found that not enough was being done to track down those responsible for the abuse.

In one example, police received a report that a 16-year-old girl in a care home in Sussex was sending naked images of herself to an adult male in America.

The inspectors said: “We saw no record of an investigation into the report. The child subsequently moved into another police force area, but there was no evidence of that force being notified of the concerns regarding her activities.”

There were a couple of particularly worrying situations, where children at real risk of harm weren’t graded as high risk.

Report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS)

Sussex Police have made child protection a top priority

HM inspector of constabulary Zoë Billingham said: “I am reassured that senior leaders in Sussex Police have made child protection a top priority.

“We found that the force was making a real effort to make every member of staff aware of the risks vulnerable children face and what they can do to help.

“That said, I do have some concerns about the service some vulnerable children get from Sussex Police.

Sussex Police welcomed the report and said the recommendations are already being implemented

Sussex Police welcomed the report and said the recommendations are already being implemented

“We saw that, in the face of heavy workloads, officers were taking shortcuts to close some cases as quickly as possible.

“In cases where a child in care went missing, we found that officers were sometimes failing to carry out a full risk assessment.

“There were a couple of particularly worrying situations, where children at real risk of harm weren’t graded as high risk.

“This is a problem the force needs to get a handle on straight away.

“Some cases involving indecent images of children and adults were being managed by the investigations and resolution centre, which is a telephone-based service supposed to manage low-risk and non-critical incidents.

“The centre didn’t pursue lines of enquiry to identify either the perpetrators or other children who might have been affected by these offences.

“As a result of our inspection, we’ve asked the force to draw up an action plan to address our concerns.

“We plan on revisiting Sussex next year to see what progress has been made.

“I’m encouraged by the positive response we’ve already had from the senior team and I’m confident that Sussex Police will do exactly what it needs to do to make children safer.”

Praise for ‘committed and dedicated’ officers

Officers were praised for their committment and dedication in the report, which noted how child protection was getting increasingly complex.

The report said: “We found some examples of good work by individual frontline officers responding to incidents of concern involving children.

“We also found specialist child protection staff to be committed and dedicated, working in an increasingly complex and demanding environment to keep children safe.

“That said, in our review of cases we found that there are inconsistencies and areas for improvement that the force needs to address to make sure that it safeguards all children appropriately.”

Police welcome the report

ACC Nick May said: “We have a key role in safeguarding and protecting children and vulnerable adults from abuse.

“The force is a partner in an array of multi-agency mechanisms, including Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards (LSCBs) and Safeguarding Adult Boards (SABs), Multi-Agency Risk Assessment Conferences (MARAC) and MARAC Plus and Multi-Agency Safeguarding Hubs (MASH).

“Over the last ten years, there has been a significant increase in reports of children needing protection and this report is a valuable source of advice and direction to further improve our response and performance in this vital area of policing.

“As the report recognises, we are clear in our commitment to protecting vulnerable children and have made it a priority.

“It also acknowledges that officers and staff who manage child abuse investigations are committed and dedicated, often working in difficult and demanding circumstances, and that our engagement with partners works effectively.

“The report also acknowledges plans by Katy Bourne, the Sussex police and crime commissioner, have included extra investment in specialist functions relating to child protection and anticipate that this will help improvements.

“However, we accept the findings and recommendations and we have already been acting on them.“