‘Police fail on child abuse’

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Protection against sex abuse provided to children by police in Leeds is worse than in other parts of West Yorkshire, a watchdog’s report claimed today.

West Yorkshire Police has been criticised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary for its “inconsistent” approach to tackling child sexual exploitation across the county.

In its review of child protection services, HMIC inspectors found some “good examples where police responded well to the risks posed by those who 
sexually exploit children”. 
It said the best work was found in areas with “mature and established partnership arrangements”, but that “in less well-developed, single-agency teams, such as in Leeds, the service was largely reactive”.

The report said: “A reactive approach limits police capability to gather intelligence and to deter and apprehend suspects.”

In September last year, child protection experts warned that the number of children at risk of being groomed in Leeds has more than trebled over the last three years.

HMIC said it was “concerned about the standard” of probes into child sexual exploitation by West Yorkshire Police across the county, particularly as all districts had specialist teams.

One worrying case cited by HMIC showed the long delays caused by the time needed for the force’s hi-tech crime unit to analyse suspects’ computers.

A man assessed as high risk was arrested in January for possessing indecent images of children, and he was released on bail while his computer was analysed. In June, when he was arrested for sexually abusing a six-year-old girl who had been playing in the street, he was still on bail due to delays looking at the computer.

Elsewhere in the report, inspectors said police in one Leeds unit “found it difficult to cope with the high volume of referrals”. And HMIC said too many children were held unnecessarily overnight in police custody.

West Yorkshire Assistant Chief Constable Russ Foster said: “We will continue to build effective relationships with both statutory and voluntary partners and work closely with them to safeguard vulnerable children and take positive action against those who abuse or neglect children.”

Saphieh Ashtiany, the equality and employment lawyer

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