In Brief

Police investigations into child abuse are 'often inadequate'

Inspectorate of Constabulary accuses police of not listening to victims of child abuse and neglect

Police officers are failing to protect children from abuse and neglect, a damning report by the independent watchdog has revealed.

Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary examined 576 cases of abuse ranging from grooming to sexual assault across eight forces in England and Wales and found that more than a third of  the investigations were inadequate.

A separate report found that more than half of all online abuse investigations were inadequate or needed improvement.

Dru Sharpling, who led the inspections, said on "too many occasions" police investigations into child abuse or neglect were poor and plagued by delay.

In many cases, officers did not believe children, and in some instances children were arrested and accused of lying when reporting sexual assault, The Guardian reports.

The report highlighted one disturbing case involving a four-year old girl with vaginal bleeding. Police officers and social services agreed – without consulting a doctor – that the likely cause was eczema, though the child had made allegations of sexual abuse against a family member. 

Inspectors have called for an urgent end to target-driven policing, where success is measured by crime figures, the BBC reports. "Children must be placed at the heart of what policing does next," said Sharpling.

Officers have been warned that they "risk failing another generation of children" if they don't reassess their approach. 

Responding to the reports, Chief Constable Simon Bailey, National Policing Lead for Child Protection, said the scale of child abuse is staggering. "We are at a crossroads," he said.

"We have got to fundamentally change our approach to policing so that our absolute focus is on working proactively with other agencies to protect the public from harm committed online or offline."

The Home Office said it has prioritised child sexual abuse as a national threat and is committed to ensuring police have the resources they need to tackle it.

But the NSPCC  said the findings were a "damning indictment" of police attitudes to victims.

"Despite national commitments and the dedication of officers tackling these darkest of crimes, at a local level vital opportunities to protect children are being missed," said the charity's chief executive Peter Wanless.

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