One of South Yorkshire’s most senior ranking police officers has issued an ‘unreserved apology’ to children ‘let down’ by the force after a new report found it had failed to protect youngsters.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has given police chiefs six weeks to come up with an action plan for turning its child protection policies and performance around after inspectors raised a series of concerns.
Assistant Chief Constable Ingrid Lee has apologised for the force’s failings and revealed that ‘a number’ of individual officers had been referred to the police watchdog, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, where it is felt more could have done more to help children in specific cases.
Details of shocking cases highlighting police inadequacies were published in the HMIC report and the Alexis Jay report, last month, which revealed 1,400 children were sexually abused by Pakistani men over a 16 year period in Rotherham.
ACC Lee said: “For those children we have failed I offer an unreserved apology - to those people we have let down.
“Child abuse damages lives, families and communities, it robs children of their innocence for ever - we have to do everything in our power to prevent it in the first place and tackle it robustly.
“There is inconsistent practice, there are some people clearly let down as a consequences of our actions, we need to make sure that is put right.”
She revealed a meeting is planned for police chiefs, heads of children’s services in Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster and local safeguarding boards to discuss county wide child protection systems. “It is important that we have a South Yorkshire response that is consistent,” she added.
ACC Lee said the force had a record number of officers working in child protection and the numbers were under review again.
But she stressed that the force was not tackling the issue to the detriment of other crimes and problems.
“The finances of policing will always be a challenge and we have more resources than we ever have in the child protection arena but we have to still continue dealing with all the business that comes through our door,” she said.
“There is nothing we would say we can not do anymore, we have to continue to provide a service to the public - when they come to the police for help we should respond. We do and we will continue to do that.”
Canon Dr Alan Billings, Labour’s candidate in the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner election to be held next month, said: “This report from HMIC shows that South Yorkshire Police are still failing in too many instances to protect vulnerable children adequately or pursue the criminals carrying out such appalling crimes.
“If elected as Police and Crime Commissioner, turning this round will be a top priority.
“That means implementing the recommendations of this report in full, vastly improving understanding of these crimes and how to deal with young people at risk, and providing proper support to victims.
“As someone with no prior involvement with South Yorkshire Police, but with experience of the criminal justice system in relation to young people, I can ensure that the Chief Constable is held to account in putting right these failures to protect the victims and bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Sam Monaghan, UK Director of Children’s Services for Barnardo’s, said: “Children at risk of abuse or from troubled backgrounds should be able to expect that the police will defend them and many have been let down in South Yorkshire by those whose job it is to protect them.
“For their part, we urge the South Yorkshire police to do everything they can to address child protection weaknesses as a matter of urgency.”
HMIC inspectors praised South Yorkshire Police for increasing its number of child protection teams and offering additional training for staff but found children in care homes were particularly vulnerable to risk.