DURHAM Police’s approach to tackling online sexual abuse has the potential of putting children at risk, inspectors have stated.

A new report by HM inspectors says the force has improved the overall way it safeguards vulnerable children over the last two years, but it pinpoints areas where changes are needed to keep those youngsters out of harm’s way.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that since its last inspection of Durham Police’s child protection services, in 2019, the force has made some, “positive changes”.

The inspectorate said these included improvements in dealing with registered sex offenders, the control room response to incidents involving children and dealing with cases where youngsters are reported missing.

But HMICFRS said despite the good progress, several areas still require improvement.

These include the response to children at risk of online sexual exploitation, including prioritising investigations and sharing information with safeguarding partners earlier.

The detention of children in police custody is another area where the force, “can do better”.

It includes ensuring the prompt arrival of appropriate adults and that children are not detained unnecessarily after they have been charged.

The inspectorate also believes there are still not enough accredited investigators in specialist safeguarding teams to meet the demand.

HM Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke, said: “Durham Constabulary has worked systematically to address the recommendations from our 2019 child protection inspection.

“The force can show clear improvements in most areas, as a result.

“However, the force still needs to improve in other areas.

“For example, we are concerned about the force’s response to children at risk of online sexual exploitation.

“Processes are not always followed and information is not always shared promptly with safeguarding partners, which potentially leaves children at risk.”

But he added: “We are encouraged by the progress Durham Constabulary has already made, and I have confidence in the force’s continued commitment to making further improvements.”

In response to the inspectorate’s findings, Durham Police said it was “confident” the force is now, “on the right track” to address the issues highlighted.”

The force statement reads: “We are satisfied with the positive progress reported by HMICFRS in this review and are confident that we are on the right track in those areas which need further improvement.

“We will continue to focus on those practices and processes which have been highlighted.

“All of our officers and staff are fully committed to protecting children who may be vulnerable to serious harm, abuse or exploitation and we would encourage any such concerns to be reported to Durham Constabulary with full confidence that the matter will be dealt with effectively.”

The full report for the Durham force is published today on the HMICFRS website.

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