Investigations into child sex abuse by West Yorkshire Police are inconsistent and hampered with delays that mean victims are left without protection, a watchdog’s report has revealed.
The force has also been criticised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) for its “lack of understanding” of child sexual exploitation across the county.
Inspectors said staff at the force “are dedicated and knowledgeable individuals, working to provide the best outcomes for the children of West Yorkshire”.
But it said its work protecting vulnerable children was “often weak” in difficult, complicated or prolonged cases, and information about cases was being recorded poorly on police systems.
The report also said children were being unnecessarily detained in police custody overnight and that there was a force-wide lack of understanding of demand created by child protection issues.
In one case cited by HMIC in the report, a man assessed as high risk was arrested in January for possessing indecent images of children, and he was released on bail while his computer was analysed.
Then in June, when he was arrested for sexually abusing a six-year-old girl who had been playing in the street, he was still on bail due to delays looking at the computer.
In another case, an 18-year-old woman reported that she had been raped by her brother five years earlier and said she was concerned he was still living with their younger brother.
The report said: “There were significant delays in this investigation, including in arranging a medical examination. There was little activity or contact with her in five months, which might well have contributed to her withdrawal of the allegation.”
West Yorkshire Police, which late last year had 84 live CSE investigations ongoing, has been asked to come up with an action plan in the next six weeks.
Mark Cunningham, HM Inspector of Constabulary, said: “West Yorkshire Police is clearly committed to improving child protection services and its staff are dedicated and knowledgeable individuals, working to provide the best outcomes for the children of West Yorkshire.
“However there is more work to be done, particularly on the more difficult cases, to ensure that delays are reduced wherever possible and that instances of children being unnecessarily detained in police custody overnight are tackled.
“I encourage West Yorkshire Police to act on our recommendations as a matter of urgency, and have asked that within six weeks it provides us with an action plan to demonstrate how it will take forward these recommendations.”
Last month, West Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson said a team of investigators looking at safeguarding and child sexual exploitation would be brought in at a cost of £1.5m.
West Yorkshire Asst Chief Con Russ Foster said: “We will continue to build effective relationships with both statutory and voluntary partners and work closely with them to safeguard vulnerable children and take positive action against those who abuse or neglect children.”