Grooming risk as watchdog reveals police force's 'poor supervision' of child sex inquiries

A silhouette of a person Credit: Anna Gowthorpe / PA Wire/Press Association Images

A report by watchdogs has revealed that potentially crucial evidence was lost and a suspect was free to carry on offending because of "unacceptable" delays in child sex inquiries at a police force.

Inspectors examined Nottinghamshire Police's handling of six cases relating to children aged between 10 and 14 years of age who were at high risk of sexual exploitation.

Five were deemed inadequate with one being assessed as "requiring improvement".

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said it found "poor supervision" inall six cases and cited one example in which "long delays" occurred in an investigation into a 14-year-old girl's sexual relationship with a 21-year-old man.

A frontline officer was given the task of completing an initial investigation before transferring the enquiry to the sexual exploitation investigation unit(SEIU).

The watchdog said that in four of the six cases, suspects were known to have access to other children who might have been potential victims but police failed to take action to manage the risk they posed.

It went on: "For example, the delays in arrest noted in the case above meant that appropriate bail conditions, which might have prevented further offending, were not imposed on the suspect."

HMIC raised concerns that non-specialist staff were investigating child protection cases without having received training in how to manage them effectively.

In the case of a 10-year-old girl who had been groomed to send indecent images of herself over the internet, there was a 10-week delay in requesting analysis of the suspect's computer "because the officer did not understand the procedure".

Stock photo of children wearing their school uniform Credit: PA / PA Archive/Press Association Images

The report said: "During this time the suspect closed his Facebook account and potential evidence was lost."

The inquiry is part of a rolling programme of child protection inspections of all forces in England and Wales.

Nottinghamshire Police Station Credit: ITV News Central

In four cases the initial response was prompt, the report said, but there was a five-day delay in responding to a report of the sexual grooming of a 13-year-old boy and a 10-day delay in the case of a report concerning a 14-year-old girl in a sexual relationship with a 21-year-old man.

When officers did respond, they took immediate action to ensure children were safe.

Logo outside Nottingham Central Station in 2010 Credit: Rui Vieira / PA Archive/Press Association Images

Referring to the case involving a 14-year-old girl discussed in the report, the force said: "The length of time taken in this investigation actually demonstrates positive work by Nottinghamshire Police."

It added: "When a victim would not engage with us we did not give up andcontinued to pursue the offender over a series of weeks until we could build up enough evidence to arrest him."

The force said there were some cases where "it is completely appropriate for non-specialist staff to deal with offences which relate to child protectionmatters, with the help and advice of specialists".

HMIC said it was pleased to find the force has taken steps to ensure children were not detained in custody under section 136 of the Mental Health Act.