A CRIME commisioner says her police force has “let the public and the most vulnerable in our society down” following a damning report into how it protects children from sexual abuse.

His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) inspected North Yorkshire Police (NYP) in November 2021 and found the standard of investigations in child protection cases was poor and that safeguarding and child protection is not prioritised enough.

The inspectors set out recommendations and visited again in December 2022 for a review but the findings, published today (Wednesday, April 3), have not made comfortable reading for Conservative Police, Crime and Fire Commissioner Zoe Metcalfe who has ordered a public meeting later with NYP chief constable Lisa Winward.

As part of the review, inspectors assessed 11 child protection investigations but only three were judged to be ‘good’.  Five were rated as ‘inadequate’ and inspectors found “serious failures in practice“ that resulted in children being harmed or left at risk.

While the review says the control room is now better at identifiying at-risk children, it said risk assesments for missing children is inconsistent and there were records of call handlers using “inappropriate victim-blaming language“.

The report includes details of a meeting where a disused hotel was discussed because missing children were known to go there, but despite the situation being well-known to officers no one had dealt with it.

It also said referral arrangements to schools for children affected by domestic abuse are “inefficient and ineffective.“

The report said the force is increasing the number of trained detectives in specialist roles but said it is struggling to maintain the number of experienced detectives required to investigate crimes competently.

It said this has proved to be difficult because over half of the force’s frontline officers have less than two years of police experience. The report says this has led to most officers not having the skills or time to effectively investigate child sexual exploitation or online abuse.nd out more about t

Commissioner Metcalfe said: “First and foremost, I am here for the public, victims and survivors impacted by the issues covered by this latest report.

"My Supporting Victims service which sits separately from North Yorkshire Police is available to anyone impacted by crime to help them to cope and recover.

The Northern Echo: Zoe Metcalfe says she will hold the chief constable to accountZoe Metcalfe says she will hold the chief constable to account (Image: LDR)

"So, if you or someone you know needs support, please visit the website at www.supportingvictims.org or call 01609 643 100 to speak to a trained professional who can offer help and advice. "

She added: “I acknowledge the areas where improvement has been made, specifically changes to training of staff about understanding vulnerability, the notable increase in the quality and number of referrals for children to the local authorities, and the force control room response to calls where children may be at risk.

"However, my focus must be on the areas which do not deliver for our most vulnerable and to understand why the highest standards are not currently being met. 

“North Yorkshire Police have had a year to progress their action plan following the first HMICFRS report on child protection.

"My team and I were regularly assured that all concerns would be tackled head on and improvements made at a significant pace but instead, 12 months later, the force is not in the position I expected them to be in.

"Not enough has been done and there is simply no excuse – North Yorkshire Police have let the public and the most vulnerable in our society down.  

“As Commissioner and a mother of two children, one of whom is vulnerable and has complex needs I share the frustration, deep disappointment and upset many people will be feeling.

"I know that it is my responsibility to increase the accountability of and pressure on the Chief Constable, to demand answers and not accept anything other than immediate and significant improvement. 

“Whilst a debrief provided by the inspectorate in preparation for this report revealed North Yorkshire Police still had areas to progress, this progress has been much slower than anticipated – as a result, I am making arrangements for an additional layer of scrutiny – I expect evidence in relation to any assurances I am given. 

“It is my duty to ask questions the public expect and deserve answers to, and I have transparently and consistently done so in my regular online public meetings.

"I will publicly hold the Chief Constable to account for this slow progress in a specially arranged online public meeting today, where I expect to hear clear and focused answers from the senior leadership of North Yorkshire Police.

“During the meeting I will also request a detailed plan from the Chief Constable on how the force will complete their original schedule of improvements, with associated timescales for achieving all outstanding recommendations.“

ACC Local Policing Scott Bisset, said force "fully accepts" the findings of the Inspectorate.

He said: "Throughout the past year we have worked across all the areas that HMICFRS previously highlighted for improvement, and while our action plan has not been fully delivered we have made progress in all areas.

"Our objective is to ensure that the improvements we put in place to better protect vulnerable children are truly embedded and sustainable in the long term.

"We have invested significantly in the training of our officers and control room staff and the report notes that this is working and that they found a much-improved approach to identifying risk and providing the right level of response to help vulnerable children and focus on the voice of the child.

"Our Digital Forensics Unit was highlighted in the report as causing delays in the safeguarding of children.

"We have invested £400,000 to reduce the backlog and the unit is currently on track to deliver a standard turnaround for the examination of digital devices within 72 hours, which will make a significant difference to the timeliness of our investigations.

"We have invested £1.17 million to increase the specialist roles in our central safeguarding team, with a focus on child protection.

"We are also establishing specialist safeguarding teams within each of our three command areas which will help us to develop a more specialist response to child safeguarding.

"We are grateful to our safeguarding partners, particularly in the local authorities, for their support in the improvements that have been made, and welcome the Report’s statement that good quality information is being shared with them at an earlier stage.

"We know that there is still further work to be done and are fully committed to delivering and completing the actions in our improvement plan. We know that this work is a priority for every vulnerable child in our communities and we will continue to apply and embed a child-centred response in our work.

"HMICFRS will be returning to the force at the end of 2023 and we expect to be able to demonstrate further improvements in our protection and care for vulnerable children."