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Child Abuse: Police Investigations

Volume 756: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of recent research by the NSPCC into police investigations of child abuse.

My Lords, we will always ensure that police and other crime-fighting agencies have access to the powers and resources that they need to tackle child abuse in all its forms. The National Crime Agency is currently leading an unprecedented operation against online child abusers in the UK. In the past 12 months it has safeguarded or protected more than 1,000 children, and 706 arrests have been made by forces.

My Lords, in July 2012, the Canadian police passed to CEOP—now part of the National Crime Agency—hundreds of names of people involved in downloading abusive images of children here in the UK. It was not until September 2014, over two years later, that Essex police interviewed deputy head teacher Martin Goldberg. He was found dead the following day, with thousands of images of children on his computer, some taken with a secret camera.

Reliable evidence shows that more than 50,000 people may pose a risk to children in the UK—and yet, by the noble Baroness’s own figures, only some 700 have been arrested. The Government say that those who pose the greatest risk are prioritised. How are they prioritised? How many of the 50,000 on the NCA list have been identified as posing the greatest risk, and how many have now been interviewed?

It is fair to say that Project Spade—as it was called—was a very regrettable incident, to the extent that the NCA has actually referred itself to the IPCC. There was no excusing what went on there. In terms of who is prioritised, they are the people who proved the most harmful to children. That is how the priority is worked out.

Will the Minister work across government to ensure that the whole children’s workforce in all sectors are trained to recognise the early signs of child abuse so as to help the police by reducing the need for cases to come before them at all? That will protect children.

My Lords, it is a general duty of those working with children to safeguard them. Certainly every single officer who works in the NCA has a legal duty to safeguard and protect children.

In terms of harm, I would say that “most harmful” applies to children in immediate danger of being harmed.

My Lords, what training are the police being given in relation to child abuse, whether it is porn images or the appalling stories of Rotherham and others right across the country? It is perfectly obvious that the police are not being trained at the moment. What is being done about it?

There are highly trained officers within the NCA. The CEOP officers, of which there are 141 at the moment, are highly trained in terms of safeguarding and in terms of image viewing on the internet. I can provide the noble and learned Baroness with more information on that subsequently.

My Lords, would the Minister care to comment on my noble friend’s question: do the authorities take physical harm towards children outside the country as seriously as they do harm towards those within it? Is her definition of “most harm” inclusive of children who are abused anywhere else in the world?

My Lords, British national children, whether they are in this country or outside it, are of the highest priority for the Government. That is why some of the work being done on the internet has global reach. In fact, we are global leaders in this area.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that progress has been made in training front-line staff and others to listen to children and take their concerns seriously—not necessarily without a critical view—and make sure that the full range of services is brought into play at the right time?

My Lords, the development of multiagency teams in this area has been very helpful over the years. Obviously, some organisations do it better than others but I am happy to write to the noble Lord in terms of where we have got to on this.

My Lords, there appears to be far more abuse of children today than there was 30 or 40 years ago. Is it known why?

My Lords, I think that there appears to be more abuse of children these days; I do not necessarily think that there is more abuse. We are just far more aware of it and willing to deal with it.

My Lords, there are reports that the Home Office is reviewing the position of Lord Mayor Fiona Woolf as chairman of the inquiry. Is this correct?

My Lords, Fiona Woolf stated to the Home Affairs Select Committee that she had no close association with the Brittans. I think that noble Lords would agree that it is time that we got on with this inquiry.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell the House what support is given to children who have been abused?

My Lords, there is a wide range of support available to children who have been abused, but in the time that I have here I will not go through it all. I will write to the noble Baroness to outline some of the detail.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of the important report produced by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner on children who are abused when taken from residential care in children’s homes and on how gangs sexually abuse children?

Yes, those are some of the most vulnerable children in our society and it is right that we should deal with this and bring the perpetrators to book.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the General Medical Council did some work a couple of years ago, with which I was involved, on the involvement of general practitioners and other doctors in spotting child abuse? Is she also aware that one issue that was most clearly a problem was the multiagency relationships that she talked of in one of her earlier answers? Although there are good intentions in relation to multiagency work, is she confident that it is being carried out in a coherent way?

The noble Baroness raises a very valid point. That is why I mentioned earlier the different pictures across various multiagency teams. This is an area for improvement.