POLICE failed to fully investigate an attempt to con teenage boys into sending sexually explicit pictures of themselves over the internet.
The incident involved 30 boys aged 13 to 15 at a school within the West Mercia force area. But a response officer, rather than a specialist team, was given the incident to deal with and police failed to interview the boys or their parents and no enquiries were made as to who the suspect may have been.
The failing was uncovered in a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary into the way West Mercia Police deals with issues of child protection and uncovered weaknesses in the way incidents involving the sexual exploitation of children were handled.
The report found the force had estimated in September last year 280 children were at risk of child sexual exploitation across the force area but only 32 had been identified and flagged on police systems and fewer had risk management plans in place.
In one case a 15-year-old girl was sexually active with a registered sex offender but there was little investigative activity and the predator was later found to be abusing other young people.
Inspectors also found while officers were quick to seize the computers and phones of suspects there was a backlog in having them analysed with 142 computes and 165 phones waiting to be assessed, with some dating back to April 2014.
It also found too many children were being detained in custody and while in most cases police were excellent at performing their role as a trusted adult to suspected victims, there were issues. They include on one occasion a 15-year-old girl who retracted allegations of inappropriate sexual behaviour from her stepfather, possibly under duress from her mother, was called in and interviewed about her lying. The stepfather was later convicted of the offence.
The report does highlight the fact overall the force responds promptly to allegations of child abuse, specialist teams were sensitive in their questioning of very young children or those with mental health difficulties and were committed to improving the protection of young people.
A series of recommendations have now been made and the force will also be reinspected in six months.
Temporary chief superintendent Steve Cullen, of West Mercia Police, said overall the report was positive and acknowledged there was rigorous supervision of registered sex offenders.
He said they were addressing areas where improvements were needed including the creation of teams of officers dedicated to dealing with child sexual exploitation cases with support from partner organisations including children’s services, while the number of young people taken into custody was falling.
“We will not be complacent, we will act on the recommendations made in the report and we will continue to work in partnership to make improvements in child protection and do whatever we can to protect the public, in particular those most vulnerable in society, from dangerous offenders.”