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Child Sexual Abuse Cases: Metropolitan Police

Volume 617: debated on Friday 25 November 2016

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department if she will make a statement on the recent review conducted by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary into the Metropolitan police’s handling of child sexual abuse cases.

Today, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary published the findings of its child protection inspection of the Metropolitan Police Service. The findings of the inspection are extremely concerning; they indicate that the Metropolitan police has been failing in its duty to protect children from harm. Those are serious issues that the Government are clear must be urgently addressed.

It is not acceptable that almost three quarters of the child protection cases reviewed either needed improvement or were inadequate, nor is it acceptable that officers were placed in roles focused on tackling child exploitation with no training on how to deal with that crime. It is simply shocking to hear that the Metropolitan police had to be prompted to take action on cases even after serious issues had been identified that meant a child could be at risk.

Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary spoke to the Mayor of London about this report and I spoke to the deputy Mayor. We were reassured that the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime intends to take swift action to address those appalling failings. We are also clear that improving the police response to child protection will be a priority for the new commissioner when he or she is appointed.

In the light of the severity of HMIC’s findings, the Home Secretary has commissioned it to provide a quarterly update on action by the Metropolitan police to address the issues and recommendations in the report to help the Mayor ensure that immediate progress is made. The public will rightly expect to see progress being made quickly and will want and need reassurance that clear improvements are being made now. That is why the reports will be published: so that the people of London can hold their force to account for those improvements.

I am sure that everyone in the House will join me in demanding swift progress from the Metropolitan police so that opportunities to protect children are not missed and any child who goes missing or is at risk of child sexual exploitation gets the protection they need and deserve.

The Home Office said in its “Annual Report and Accounts 2015-16”:

“We have already recognised CSA as a national threat in the Strategic Policing Requirement, obliging forces to maximise specialist skills and expertise to prevent offending and resolve cases.”

It seems that the only force that the Home Office was not obliging to maximise specialist skills and expertise was the Metropolitan police force—the largest force in the country.

I appreciate that this is technically a matter for the Mayor and for the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime, but the Home Office had responsibility for this force as recently as 1999. The public will not understand why the Home Office never asked questions about how the largest force in the country was preventing offending and resolving child sex abuse cases.

This report comes weeks after a damning review found “numerous errors” in Scotland Yard’s Operation Midland probe. The revelations come in a week in which the largest group of survivors—the Shirley Oaks Survivors Association—has withdrawn from the child sex abuse inquiry, which makes me wonder how long the Metropolitan police has been failing victims of child sex abuse in London. This is a shocking report, and the Home Secretary cannot hide behind the Mayor. Looking at child sex abuse in its totality and at how the child sex abuse inquiry seems to be crumbling, the public could be forgiven for asking how seriously the Government really take the issue of child sex abuse.

I am not quite sure what the hon. Lady’s direct questions were. She referred to a timeframe and mentioned 1999. I am not sure that she has read the full HMIC report—maybe she should do that—but 1999, of course, was at the start of a period of Labour Government, so I am not sure why she is criticising her own Government.

As I said, the Home Secretary has commissioned HMIC to go in quarterly. She has spoken to Mayor of London and I have spoken to the deputy Mayor. They have a plan for how they want to hold the Metropolitan police to account. I have to say, we seem to have more confidence in the Labour Mayor of London than the hon. Lady does, which I am slightly surprised by, but it is important that we focus on this issue, and that the House gives a unified statement of clear intent. We should be united in saying that the Metropolitan police—which, as the report makes clear, is responsible for this, and for the shocking situation whereby nobody in senior management took responsibility for it—needs to get to grips with the situation, deal with it and do that now.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the heinousness of child sexual exploitation means that this should not have happened with any police force in the land but particularly not the Metropolitan police, given its size and London’s geopolitical location, with its access to major airports, ports and so on? The defence that some seem to be putting forward is extraordinary: that in the absence of an email, a memo or an explicit instruction, it was felt that this could in some way be a lower priority for policing.

My hon. Friend makes a very good and powerful point, particularly when we consider London, where we have arguably the best funded and resourced police service in the country, with the largest number of police officers. He is right that we should not have to say specifically to the Metropolitan police—or any police force—that this issue should be dealt with, bearing in mind the public profile of the issue and the fact that the police’s first duty should be defending our citizens, with the most vulnerable at the core of that. It should go without saying.

Problems in this area go well beyond London, so what discussions has the Home Secretary had with Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to identify whether there are similar failings in other police forces in England and Wales? If those discussions have not been taking place, will they soon and will she report them to the House?

I can give the hon. Gentleman confidence about that issue. The report into London is part of an ongoing series of work being done by HMIC, which has been commissioned to do such work on every police force in the country. The report on London has come out in this way for two reasons. First, the London report has just been published, although others have already been published and more will be published in the next year or so. Secondly—we have to be unequivocal about this—it is the most damning report that HMIC has ever written about any inspection it has done on any police force.

Lancashire constabulary has very much focused resource on professionalising training for its officers on child sexual exploitation. Can my right hon. Friend confirm that the College of Policing was specifically set up to professionalise the police and provide them with better training?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point and is absolutely right. That was why the Prime Minister, when she was Home Secretary, set up the College of Policing—to make sure that we professionalise the police force and we share best practice across the country. That, along with the leads provided by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Chief Constables’ Council, is exactly how we should make sure that police forces are well equipped to deal with all issues.

My constituents will be very concerned about this issue. Will the Minister tell me what steps the Government have taken to protect vulnerable and young people from abuse across the country?

My hon. Friend makes a very good point. We should remember that the independent inquiry is looking at all the issues historically and up to the present. It is important to let it have the space and support to do its job, so we can make sure we learn the lessons of the past and show that there will be justice for anybody who has been through the kind of horrendous ordeal that some people have been through. We have to be very clear that this type of behaviour simply cannot be tolerated. It is right to make sure that police forces are training officers, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Seema Kennedy) said, and it is shocking to think that the Metropolitan police simply did not put that training in place.

Does today’s report not show that the critical work of the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse must continue? We must stop trying to find fault with it and picking holes in it. We need to give the inquiry the space it needs to hear all the evidence and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

As always, my hon. Friend is right. It is important that the inquiry can do its work, has the space to do its work and has support from across the House to get on with the important work of getting to the bottom of the problem.

There has been a much higher number of prosecutions and referrals as a result of this issue having a much higher profile, but does my right hon. Friend agree that the report shows that the ethos needs to change not only in the Met, but in police forces across the country if we are to protect the most vulnerable?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. As we have heard, many police forces are getting to grips with changing their culture and making sure that vulnerable people and those at risk of any kind of hidden crime can be confident that they can come forward and will be protected—that is part of the inquiry’s work—but he is right that it is shocking to think that vulnerable people did not get the protection they required from the Metropolitan police, that officers did not have the training they needed and that nobody in a senior position really took ownership of the issue. That has to change. The Metropolitan police has to take on that culture change, and other police forces also need to think about doing so.

My right hon. Friend is right to describe the report as shocking. Are there any actions that he believes the Government and Parliament need to take as a result?

My hon. Friend makes a reasonable point and asks an important question. I must say that, from the conversations we have had with the Mayor’s office—the Home Secretary and I have had conversations with the Mayor and the deputy Mayor—I am confident that the work they want to do will hold the Metropolitan police to account and lead to change. There is a meeting that the public can attend at City Hall on Monday.

I know that the deputy Mayor is determined to bring together experts from around the country—Simon Bailey, the NPCC lead, as well as the College of Policing lead—to work with the new Metropolitan police lead, Martin Hewitt, and I think that that is right. From the Government’s point of view, it is right for us to do what we can, and the Home Secretary has commissioned HMIC to carry out inspections quarterly and to report publicly on them so that the people of London can hold the Metropolitan police to account and support the Mayor in that work.