CLEVELAND Police today receives the worst verdict in an inspection of any force in history – as it also emerged senior officers had actually misled HM inspectors during the process.

The force has been ranked as inadequate in every area inspected by police watchdog the HMICFRS.

Vulnerable victims, including children, are being put at risk by the force's poor processes, response time figures had been 'fiddled' by downgrading the urgency of crimes, and the force was poor at catching criminals, investigating crimes, and preventing crime, inspectors said.

The watchdog was also highly critical of the lack of measures to tackle corruption in the force and said some senior officers were misleading the Chief Constable with incorrect information – and even gave HMIC inspectors themselves wrong information as they were being assessed.

The force is now in the equivalent of special measures, while Chief Constable Richard Lewis, who joined Cleveland in April, just two weeks before the inspectors visited, faces the task of turning the force around.

The Home Office is keeping a close eye on his progress.

HM inspector Phil Gormley said: "I am extremely concerned about the performance of Cleveland Police in keeping people safe and reducing crime.

"I am very concerned about the lack of ethical behaviour in the force - senior leaders should be acting as positive role models and many are not. This is having a profoundly negative effect on the organisation. While the force acts promptly on reports of corruption, it needs to actively root out corruption and identify those people at risk of it, to try and prevent it from happening.

"My overall assessment is that Cleveland Police's performance is inadequate and has declined considerably since our last inspection. The force has been placed on to our national oversight process. We will monitor its progress."

More than two-thirds of domestic abuse cases were not being prosecuted, and inspectors said they had 'serious concerns' about vulnerable victims because they were not being protected well enough.

The homicide rate in Cleveland had also leapt from an average of one to three a year, to 13 last year.

The report said: "The way Cleveland Police prevents crime, tackles anti-social behaviour and protects vulnerable people is poor."

It said the quality of investigations wasn't good enough, and that it had 'serious concerns that the force is leaving vulnerable people at risk by not protecting them well enough.

It said crime prevention was 'not prioritised' and was highly critical of a decision taken before Mr Lewis took up his post to remove all police constables from neighbourhood teams, 77 officers in total, and place them on response calls only.

It was also 'not proactive enough' at catching criminals.

Cleveland Police had a 17.6 per cent increase in crime in the year to March, the third highest crime rate per population of all police forces in England and Wales, and homicides were up to 13 the previous year, up from an average of one to three.

They were also critical of misleading response time figures, as officers were downgrading active incidents to help it meet response time targets.

"This means that the force is intentionally suppressing demand. Chief officers don't have a clear view of this because response data reported at force performance meetings is inaccurate. It incorrectly shows that the force had a 90 per cent response rate to emergency incidents in April 2019, when its actual response rate was 64 per cent."

Despite HMICFRS ordering force to change this, "it has continued to provide inaccurate data", it said.

There were problems with high sickness levels and a high number of vacancies for police officers, while shift patterns didn't correspond to demand.

The report said; "During our inspection, we found examples of children being missing overnight and noone trying to locate them until the next morning."

Worryingly, inspectors said the Chief Constable was 'unable to trust the information that he receives: "We tried to find evidence to support the statements senior leaders made during inspection. using the force's own documents. Many of the statements made were incorrect. Not only were senior leaders unable to provide evidence to support some of the things they claimed were happening, but we found evidence to the contrary."