All front-line police officers receive training in protecting and safeguarding children. Dedicated child protection police officers also receive specialist training in investigating child abuse cases, and the College of Policing is delivering additional training for front-line staff so that they can recognise, protect and refer children at risk of child sexual exploitation.
Children who are being sexually exploited are sometimes involved in antisocial behaviour, theft and other criminal offences. Often, the underlying problem is missed because the child is perceived to be an offender rather than a victim. Does the Minister agree that the training for all police officers should include an understanding of the behaviour associated with child sexual exploitation, including criminal behaviour, so that sexually exploited children are identified at an early age and police resources are used as effectively as possible?
The hon. Lady’s point about training is right and I mentioned training in my answer. I am sure she will welcome the fact that the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service will shortly consult on a fundamental review of investigative guidance on child sex offences, precisely so that we can develop greater expertise and sensitivity throughout the system.
In the course of the inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee into grooming, one excuse that we heard for areas failing to tackle child sexual exploitation was that prosecution was difficult. Does the Minister agree that with forces in Lancashire and Oxford demonstrating that innovative investigative methods can be used successfully to back up witness testimony, there is no excuse for any police force failing to protect victims or to prosecute these depraved criminals?
I agree completely with my hon. Friend. I commend her and the rest of the Select Committee on the report that they produced today. She is right that one improvement, which needs to be extended, is in the capacity of the police to investigate and of prosecutors successfully to prosecute those who commit these disgusting crimes. A number of trials around the country have led to multiple convictions and I know that many more such cases are in the pipeline. I hope that sends a clear signal that this crime is absolutely unacceptable and that the police are getting better at rooting out those who commit it.