'Concern and disappointment' over North Yorkshire Police's child protection investigations

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A police commissioner has voiced her “concern and disappointment” after government inspectors found a police force’s standard of investigations in child protection cases was poor, including those involving missing children and child sexual exploitation.

However, North Yorkshire Police Fire and Crime commissioner Zoe Metcalfe has stopped short of criticising any of the force’s officers over the failings, saying they sometimes happen despite the best efforts of those with a policing role to safeguard vulnerable youngsters.

Mrs Metcalfe has issued the comments in a report to the North Yorkshire and York’s police, fire and crime panel, which will consider her response to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services’ finding earlier this year that North Yorkshire Police did not prioritise safeguarding and child protection highly enough.

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Inspectors concluded the force needed to improve speaking to children, recording their behaviour and demeanour, listening to their concerns and views, and using that information to make decisions about their welfare.

Government inspectors raised concerns over police probes in North Yorkshire.Government inspectors raised concerns over police probes in North Yorkshire.
Government inspectors raised concerns over police probes in North Yorkshire.

They also recommended supervising investigations to make sure the force pursues opportunities and avoids delaying cases unnecessarily and moving to promptly share information with safeguarding partners.

In an effort to provide reassurance to residents, the Commissioner has pledged to ensure the Chief Constable continues to introduce improvements and will publicly review the force’s progress made at a safeguarding meeting on July 21.

A report by the commissioner’s office to a meeting of the police, fire and crime panel on Wednesday states Chief Constable Lisa Winward accepted the Inspectorate’s findings and “offered her deepest apologies to any child that North Yorkshire Police have let down or could have protected more effectively”.

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The report adds: “North Yorkshire Police recognise that protecting children is one of the most important things that the police do. As a force they are working to ensure that the right systems and processes are in place to support officers and staff protecting and safeguarding every child.”

The panel will hear Mrs Metcalfe is reassured the Chief Constable is focused on ensuring North Yorkshire Police is doing everything possible to protect children and has been working at pace to address the identified issues.

The report adds the Inspectorate’s findings are of “concern and disappointment” to the Commissioner and to the Chief Constable.

It adds: “The Commissioner is clear that all children deserve to grow up in a safe environment, cared for and protected from harm. But too many do not, and our police forces have an important role in identifying those who are vulnerable, protecting them and meeting their needs. That is why both the Commissioner and Chief Constable were candid in acknowledging that what this inspection found is unacceptable.”

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Nevertheless, the Commissioner’s report also emphasises the dedication and commitment from the officers and staff who conducted child abuse investigations, while often working in difficult circumstances.

It concludes: “Sometimes not enough has been done to ensure that North Yorkshire Police can show that vulnerable children are as protected as they should be in North Yorkshire and York. All too often the failings come despite the best efforts of those who have a policing role to safeguard them.”