Report of Met Police failings in child abuse cases 'most damning' says minister
A report exposing "shocking" failings in the handling of child sexual abuse cases by Britain's largest police force has been described by a government minister as the most damning ever produced by a watchdog.
HM Inspectorate of Constabulary warned the Metropolitan Police is putting children at risk because of "serious errors".
Answering an urgent question about the findings in the Commons, Policing Minister Brandon Lewis said: "We have to be unequivocally clear about this - this is the most damning report the HMIC have ever written about any inspection it has done on any police force in the country."
The Metropolitan Police was found to be inconsistent in its handling of child abuse and sex exploitation cases and had a lack of leadership, HMIC said.
A review of 374 cases found three quarters were handled inadequately or required improvement.
In one case, a teenage girl disclosed that she had been given alcohol and cigarettes before being sexually assaulted by a 30-year-old man she met online.
An officer was not assigned to the investigation until 17 days later, during which time the man continued to message the teenager, and HMIC said this put her at risk, while the Met rated its handling as good.
There was a backlog of visits to registered sex offenders, including those who pose a very high risk to children.
In one instance, police received seven separate reports about a registered sex offender exhibiting worrying behaviour, such as talking to children or being seen in parks where children were present.
But they missed opportunities to apply for a sexual harm prevention order or work "actively" on the case, the report said.
Inspectors said they found serious errors of judgment, inconsistency, unacceptable delays and a lack of leadership which meant that children are not being protected properly.
Mr Lewis described the findings of the inspection as "extremely concerning".
He said: "It is simply shocking to hear that the Metropolitan Police had to be prompted to take action on cases even after serious issues had been identified, which meant that a child could be at risk."
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has requested public quarterly reports from HMIC on the Met's progress, while London Mayor Sadiq Khan has set out measures to address the issue.
Scotland Yard said it aims to provide the best possible protection to children, adding that it was "sorry that this has not always been the case, especially to the children involved in the examples highlighted in this report".
The force said that since the HMIC inspection it has revisited all the cases the watchdog examined. It said: "We have identified no further harm to children and no further offenders have been charged or cautioned as a result."
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said the report shows "an appalling catalogue of failure for some of the most vulnerable in society".
She added: "This is not just an issue for the Met. The same failings have been identified in forces across the country and victims continue to be let down.
"A year ago the Home Office said they would give forces the resources they needed to improve their response to child sexual abuse. It's time they kept that promise."
The report comes weeks after a damning review found "numerous errors" in Scotland Yard's doomed investigation into claims of a VIP paedophile ring.