South Yorkshire Police ‘hid’ the ‘true extent’ of serious crime and left vulnerable victims ‘unprotected or at risk’ a damning watchdog report has found – just days after the Rotherham sex abuse scandal was made public.
Officers showed an ‘unacceptable’ disregard for victims, some of whom included vulnerable children who had suffered violence and sexual assault, an investigation by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has found.
Police spent ‘a great deal of time’ trying to ‘disprove’ the most vulnerable victims of crime and often failed to record crimes relating to vulnerable people, the report said.
The revelations come just days after it emerged at least 1,400 children in Rotherham were subjected to ‘appalling’ abuse between 1997 and 2013.
The HMIC report into the force’s ‘crime reporting integrity’ found almost a quarter of the crimes it examined, which should have been recorded, were not.
Of the 152 cases HMIC looked at from November 2012 to October 2013, 117 were found to be crimes that should have been recorded, yet only 89 were.
Of 53 reports referred from ‘other agencies’ such as social services, 34 crimes should have been recorded but only 18 had been, meaning nearly half were being effectively ignored.
The report said: “This level of under-recorded crime is a significant cause of concern and a matter of material and urgent importance, particularly as some of these relate to violence and sexual assault against vulnerable children.”
Officers in the public protection unit in particular spent time trying to disprove victims’ allegations ‘from the outset’ instead of recording crime first, the report said.
“This culture of dealing with reports of crime shows a disregard for victims and is unacceptable. It hides the true extent of the picture of crime from the force and is particularly concerning when the offences investigated are often of the most serious nature, and victims the most vulnerable.”
Police attitudes to vulnerable people were also criticised. “We found that, where a victim is vulnerable, either through age or mental health, and it appears there is any doubt regarding the authenticity of the report, a ‘no crime’ is often submitted.
“There is an inherent risk that a significant number of reported offences of a serious nature have not been recorded, and vulnerable victims have been left unprotected or at risk of further offending.”
The HMIC’s findings were published after the Jay report exposed the scale of child sex exploitation in Rotherham.
Children were abducted, trafficked to other towns, beaten, doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight and made to witness violent rapes.
The shocking report said both South Yorkshire Police and Rotherham Council failed to protect some of the most vulnerable, with clear evidence of child sex exploitation being ‘disbelieved, suppressed or ignored’.
But the HMIC report said the culture in the force has begun to change ‘over the past 12 months’.
“It was clear to our inspectors that senior management messages on ethical and accurate recording, together with encouragement for senior officers to secure accurate crime recording figures and the absence of any pressure to under-record, were having a positive impact.”
Crime prevention Minister Norman Baker called for action and said the Government expected the force to ‘act immediately’ to regain victims’ confidence.
“We are very concerned there are now two reports that suggest failings in the way South Yorkshire Police deals with vulnerable victims,” he said.
“We expect the force to act on these immediately.”
South Yorkshire Police today admitted it has ‘lessons to learn’ after the HMIC report – but stressed positives had also been identified.
A force spokesman said: “South Yorkshire Police welcomes the findings of the report into crime data integrity and the opportunity to improve.
“The force has lessons to learn in the recording of crime data and we are actively working through and implementing the recommendations set out in the report.
“The inspection took place between October 2012 and October 2013 and the report recognises significant improvements since then.
“We note the inspector’s comment that no conclusions can be drawn from such a small sample and the report quotes an error margin of +/- 10 per cent.
“We recognise that systems need improving and there is a programme in place to do so..
“The report also highlights a number of areas of positive work.”
The spokesman added: “It found no evidence of performance pressures leading to failures in crime recording and recognises the leadership team promotes data integrity throughout the force.
“It is important to recognise that this report is about recording and not how we investigate crime.
“The force’s public protection unit is victim-led and officers take great care to ensure all victims of this type of crime are fully supported from the moment a report is received.
“Officers working in public protection are specially trained to ensure these victims, who are often vulnerable, receive the service they need.
“Lessons have been learned through previous investigations and these have been put into practise.
“A recent HMIC report looking at the force’s response to child sexual exploitation found the force had invested considerably in its response to CSE .
The report acknowledged the pace of change had been swift.”