South Yorkshire Police have been slammed for ‘disregard’ shown to vulnerable victims after a watchdog investigation revealed officers spent a ‘great deal of time’ trying to disprove victims of sex offences.
The revelation that the force has under-reported crimes and did not always take vulnerable victims seriously comes just days after the leader of Rotherham Council resigned after it emerged at least 1,400 children in the town were subjected to ‘appalling levels of crime and abuse’ between 1997 and 2013.
An investigation into the force’s crime reporting integrity released by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found as much as 24 per cent of the crimes it examined were not recorded when they should have been.
Only 89 out of 117 of the 152 cases it examined were correctly recorded, and of those, three were wrongly classified and nine others were recorded outside the 72-hour time limit.
It said: “This level of under-recorded crime is a significant cause of concern and is a matter of material and urgent importance, particularly as some of these relate to violence and sexual assault against vulnerable children.”
Another part of the report said: “We also found that in some cases of more serious crime, an ‘investigate-to-record’ process was being implemented. This was particularly evident in the public protection unit, with a great deal of time spent trying to disprove the word of the victim from the outset, rather than record the crime in compliance with the NCRS and HOCR and then take the appropriate action as the investigation progressed.”
It went on: “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 by this unit are often of the most serious nature and victims are often the most vulnerable.”
Later it continued: “We found that where a victim is vulnerable, either through age or mental health issues, and it appears that there is any doubt regarding the authenticity of the report, a no-crime is often submitted.”
A spokesman for South Yorkshire Police said: South Yorkshire Police welcomes the findings in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary 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, including IT and the force’s public protection unit stand-alone system.
“The report also highlights a number of areas of positive work by South Yorkshire Police.
“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 the recording of crime 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 throughout an investigation, 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 in areas of public protection and these have been put into practise.
“A recent HMIC report looking at the force’s response to Child Sexual Exploitation found that the force had invested considerably in its response to CSE and increased staffing levels.
“The report acknowledged the pace of change had been swift.”