Children could be at risk due to how Met investigates online child abuse - watchdog

1 September 2021, 00:01 | Updated: 1 September 2021, 14:32

There are concerns the way the Met Police investigates online child abuse could put youngsters in danger
There are concerns that the way the Met Police investigates online child abuse could put youngsters in danger. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

There are serious concerns that the way the Metropolitan Police investigates online child abuse could put youngsters in danger.

Probes into the viewing and sharing of indecent images did not "focus enough on quickly identifying and protecting any children at risk from the offender", a watchdog found.

In some cases, officers delayed alerting social services that a child was living in the same house as a suspect because they did not want to "jeopardise the investigation", Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) added.

Looking at the force's child protection work, the body also identified "concerning delays" in uploading images to a national child abuse database which "potentially means victims are not identified and safeguarded as quickly as they should be".

It highlighted "significant delays" in the forensic examination of electronic devices which could lead to "missed opportunities to identify abuse".

Inspectors also said some officers and staff do not have the right experience or training for such investigations.

READ MORE: Met officer given final warning after sending homophobic email to 55 colleagues

The report said: "Online investigations remain an acute concern.

"Overall, we found that investigations of the viewing and sharing of indecent images of children do not focus enough on quickly identifying and protecting any children at risk from the offender.

"We saw cases where investigators delayed alerting children's social care to the fact that children were living in a house with someone who was potentially uploading images of child abuse because they did not want safeguarding to jeopardise the investigation.

"This potentially leaves children at risk."

Inspectors acknowledged delays in uploading images of child abuse to the national database was a problem across the country and said they did not underestimate the "size of the task".

But they warned this "potentially means victims are not identified and safeguarded as quickly as they should be".

The force had made some progress and improvements on its work to keep children safe but the pace of change had at times been "slow", inspector of constabulary Matt Parr said.

There was some praise for increasing the number of staff managing registered sex offenders and there was better recognition of the needs of vulnerable children coming into police custody.

Mr Parr added: "There is still much more work to do to provide better outcomes for vulnerable children in London - from more quickly identifying and protecting any children at risk from offenders, to undertaking a skills audit to identify what specialist training officers need.

"We are assured that the Metropolitan Police has plans in place to continue making improvements and we will closely monitor their performance.

"If we think it is needed, we will increase our scrutiny of the force's child protection services."

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