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West Mercia child sex investigations 'poorly planned' and too long

Boy holding his head Image copyright Science Photo Library
Image caption HM Inspectorate of Constabulary carried out an inspection of West Mercia Police in November

Child protection investigations by West Mercia Police have been criticised as "poorly planned" and "unnecessarily prolonged".

HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) also said the force's response to child sexual exploitation was "weak".

But inspectors praised West Mercia for dealing with child abuse allegations "promptly" and for its "rigorous" supervision of sex offenders.

West Mercia Police said it would act on the recommendations made in the report.

HMIC said the force should improve the way it works with other agencies like the Local Safeguarding Children Board, as this would help to reduce the instances of children being taken into custody.

It has asked West Mercia to act on the report's recommendations "as a matter of urgency" and to provide an action plan within six weeks.

What West Mercia is getting wrong:

  • In difficult or more complex cases, investigations were poorly planned, insufficiently thorough and unnecessarily prolonged
  • Recognising and responding to child sexual exploitation was weak
  • Too many children were being unnecessarily detained in police custody overnight
  • Some inquiries and investigations were undertaken by insufficiently skilled and knowledgeable staff

West Mercia Police said protecting young people from harm was "an absolute priority" and it would work closely with partner agencies to keep "the most vulnerable safe".

The force said it now had teams of officers dedicated to dealing with child sexual exploitation.

The number of young people brought into custody is "declining", a spokesman said.

The report is based on an inspection carried out by HMIC in November.

What West Mercia is getting right:

  • Allegations about child abuse were responded to promptly
  • Rigorous supervision of registered sex offenders
  • Clear commitment to improving services for vulnerable people, including children in need of protection
  • Specialist teams were sensitive and skilled in their questioning of children who were very young or who had learning or mental health difficulties

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