Metropolitan Police – accelerated causes of concern

Published on: 6 October 2023

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Introduction

If our inspection identifies a serious or critical shortcoming in a force’s practice, policy or performance, we will report it as a cause of concern. A cause of concern will always be accompanied by one or more recommendations. When we identify a cause of concern during our inspections, we normally provide details in the published force report.

In some cases, such as when we discover significant service failures or risks to public safety, we report our concerns and recommendations earlier. This is called an accelerated cause of concern.

We have issued two accelerated causes of concern to the Metropolitan Police Service as a result of its failure to:

  • identify and assess risks appropriately, and to respond adequately, when children are reported missing; and
  • carry out sufficiently effective investigations when children are at risk of, or harmed by, criminal or sexual exploitation.

Cause of concern

The force needs to improve how it identifies and assesses risks, and how it responds, when children are reported missing.

Recommendations

By 31 December 2023, the Metropolitan Police Service should make sure that, in respect of missing children:

  • those responsible for grading the risks to which each missing child is exposed are sufficiently trained and able to appropriately assess the risks, using all relevant information held by or available to the force;
  • it appropriately assesses risk in all cases; and
  • it investigates cases of missing children effectively from the first point of contact and that its response is proportionate to the level of risk.

Children who go missing regularly are often in care and are particularly vulnerable. We found that, when children were reported missing, the force often didn’t take account of the risk posed to them or the harm they may suffer. And its policy and guidance for dealing with missing people didn’t have a clear explanation of what ‘high risk’ meant.

We also found that many staff and officers responsible for grading risk showed a limited understanding of the links between children who go missing regularly and their criminal and sexual exploitation.

Officers and staff didn’t act quickly enough, if at all, to locate children who go missing regularly to make sure they are safe. And when these children did return home, the force frequently made no attempt to see them in-person or try to understand why they went missing.

We are particularly concerned about the frequency with which officers and staff use victim-blaming language. This highlights that officers and staff may not fully understand the potential risks to children. And this lack of understanding can result in ineffective police investigations, with important lines of enquiry being overlooked and children left unprotected.

Cause of concern

The force should improve its investigations when children are at risk of, or harmed by, criminal or sexual exploitation.

Recommendations

By 31 December 2023, the Metropolitan Police Service should make sure that:

  • it allocates exploitation investigations to officers and staff who have the appropriate knowledge and skills;
  • supervisors review investigations regularly, clearly record any work that is still needed and monitor deadlines for completion;
  • it follows all reasonable lines of enquiry to identify suspects;
  • it pursues evidence-led prosecutions and appropriate disruption activities in circumstances when a victim doesn’t support an investigation; and
  • it complies with the requirements for forces established in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales.

In many cases, the force failed to investigate promptly, and it didn’t always complete reasonable lines of enquiry. And on several occasions, no investigation plan was in place and supervisors didn’t review investigations sufficiently.

Frequently, the force failed to update children and/or their parents or carers during investigations. And when children didn’t support an investigation, the force didn’t always consider progressing the case without their support. This is important because when forces continue investigations without the child’s support, there is the potential to safeguard them and prevent perpetrators from committing further offences.

We found that the force didn’t always comply with the Code of Practice for Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in England and Wales complete a victim needs assessment. This is important because children’s needs may not always be met, and they may disengage with investigations, withdraw their support for prosecutions and lose faith in the criminal justice process.

This notification of two causes of concern constitutes a report under section 54 of the Police Act 1996. As it also contains recommendations, the local policing body is required to respond under section 55 of the Police Act 1996.

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Metropolitan Police – accelerated causes of concern