South Yorkshire Police came under renewed pressure this week to do more to protect children from sexual exploitation.
Immediate action was being demanded in the wake of a report raising serious questions about the force’s effectiveness, especially its consistency, in dealing with the issue across the county.
Despite it being a top priority, many senior managers and intelligence teams are focusing instead on tackling rising rates of burglary and vehicle crime.
Chief Constable David Crompton was pressed earlier this year by MPs over his force’s handling of child sex abuse in the wake of accusations that not enough was being done to tackle grooming gangs.
Prosecution numbers were low and there were suggestions that sex gangs were escaping because of racial sensitivities, which the police denied.
South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright, who oversees the running of the force, asked Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, to investigate further. Now the police watchdog has raised a “serious concern” about the protection children receive.
Although child sexual exploitation was South Yorkshire Police’s top priority, this was “not reflected in operational activity”.
HMIC said all 1,700 front line staff had now received specialist training, there had been an increase in the number of offenders prosecuted and the force was now working better with other agencies.
But efforts, including Mr Wright investing an extra £500,000 a year to pay for 10 detectives and other staff to track down and prosecute child abusers, had so far seen “mixed success”.
“While there are pockets of good and effective practice, most noticeabl in Sheffield city, the approach taken to tackling this kind of offending varies significantly across the four districts.”
The 40-page inspectors’ report makes recommendations on issues such as leadership, strategies, training, intelligence gathering and compliance with national guidance.
Mr Wright said the most urgent recommendations should be implemented immediately and others within three to six months. “I fully support the recommendations and have instructed the Chief Constable that he must ensure they are in place within the time frames set out by the inspectors.”
“The commitment and effort of officers and staff on the front line of this most heinous of crimes is fully appreciated by me and rightly recognised by the inspectors. However, there is clearly a failure of management to turn my, and the public of South Yorkshire’s, key strategic priority into operational effectiveness uniformly across the whole force area.”