Figures show Met Police told of 7,205 serious sex attacks on under-16s
But only 989 of the cases, which include rapes, led to criminal charges
NSPCC: Some cases collapse when victims do not have enough support
Government introduced new guidelines in 2013 to help young victims
Fewer than one in seven child sex abuse cases probed by Britain’s largest police force have led to criminal charges, figures have revealed.
Scotland Yard investigated 7,205 reports of serious attacks on under-16s between 2010 and October last year – just 989 of which (14 per cent) ended with a person being prosecuted.
Fewer offenders still were convicted after prosecutors, who were handed details by London’s Metropolitan Police, tested cases against them through the courts.
The figures, obtained by Mike Sullivan for the Sun on Sunday, show police success rates lagging despite a major crackdown on child sex abuse.
The Met reportedly brought in up to 100 extra officers in 2013 to tackle sex abuse cases including child exploitation and the threat of grooming gangs.
The shake-up was an attempt to improve the Met’s controversial Operation Sapphire rape unit after it was accused of failings in previous years.
An IPCC report in 2013 found ‘under-performing and over-stretched’ officers in Southwark, south London, had encourage adult victims to retract their allegations to boost detection rates.
Today’s figures are said to include rape, gang rape, child trafficking and sexual assault.
Last year the NSPCC warned child rape rates were even worse than official figures suggest because many cases are never reported to the authorities.
‘Not all cases come to the attention of the police and, even if they do, they may decide it is not in the best interests of the child to investigate an incident as a criminal offence,’ a spokesman said.
The charity previously said some child sex abuse cases were collapsing because children were being denied the support they needed to give evidence in court.
Claiming fewer than a quarter of 23,000 offences in 2012 ended in a prosecution, the charity said all children giving evidence should have an intermediary to help deal with ‘hostile’ questioning.
Responding to the call, the government issued new guidelines saying child sex abuse cases should only be dealt with by specialist prosecutors who ignore ‘myths, stereotypes and prejudices’.
Victims must also be offered ‘appropriate support’ such as counselling and criminal cases should be heard in court with as few delays as possible, the guidelines added.
The Metropolitan Police did not immediately return requests for comment on today’s figures.
POLICE chiefs have declared there is a problem with child sexual exploitation (CSE) in the Royal Borough.
Thames Valley Police this week revealed since Autumn 2013, the force has got involved in 38 incidents to protect young people in the borough believed to be at risk of CSE. It added currently 13 young people are actively being worked with. Of the 38 incidents, 37 involved girls and all 38 were aged between 12 and 18. Since the launch of a CSE-tackling programme in the Windsor and Maidenhead policing area in Autumn 2013, three abduction notices have been slapped on people suspected of grooming teenagers and there have been two arrests on suspicion of CSE – both unrelated to the abduction notices. Superintendent Kate Ford, area commander for Windsor and Maidenhead, said: “It would be very naive to say just as we live in an affluent area, there isn’t a problem. “We don’t have a problem on the scale of some areas. We have young people that we believe are being exploited and we are working closely with partners to make sure that doesn’t escalate.” Windsor-based Inspector Emily Roberts, who is taking the lead on tackling CSE in the borough, revealed as part of a large-scale training and education operation with hotels and bed and breakfasts last year, one hotel in the Royal Borough was given comprehensive training in licensing law in September. Supt Ford added: “There were concerns about it potentially being a place where young people were being groomed. Whilst we didn’t have any evidence that they were abetting or aiding criminal activity, we could do checks on selling alcohol. There were some apparent breaches there.” The pair also warned there is no guarantee that levels of CSE have reached a ceiling in the Royal Borough, adding as police and the public are more alert to warning signs, especially after recent high-profile cases such as in Rotherham and Oxford.
NSPCC chief exective Peter Wanless on the charity’s campaign to remove child abuse images from the internet
How we deal with the sexual abuse of children is one of the biggest challenges facing society.
This year we have heard truly horrific allegations of historic sexual abuse, including Westminster paedophile rings killing boys, and only today there was a warning that children are being groomed in every town.
I recently joined a summit of international experts dedicated to eradicating one of the vilest crimes which currently plagues the world – making, circulating and viewing pictures of children being sexually assaulted and raped.
It was successful in the sense that it raised awareness of the problem, demonstrated cross-border commitment to taking action and showcased interesting ideas.
But even as the delegates were enthusiastically embracing a new-found co-operation, the grim reality of this sordid business was being played out in criminal courts across the country – and continues.
While Prime Minister David Cameron was announcing a new specialist crime unit to target criminals who deal in these online images, a middle-aged man was jailed for a second offence of possessing them.
Another had been caught with 50,000 illegal pictures and a third claimed he viewed indecent material because he was “lonely”.
This was not an exceptional day. Pick almost any other date in the year and you will find someone being found guilty of downloading or possessing images which would make decent people recoil.
The sheer volume of this appalling material is also quite staggering.
NSPCC research a couple of years ago revealed 26 million child abuse pictures had been confiscated by just five of 43 police forces in England and Wales.
And those caught with them come from all walks of life.
They range from teenagers to pensioners from a variety of professions – paediatricians, policemen, journalists, social workers, undertakers, lecturers, teachers, company directors, sports coaches, electricians, bell-ringers, caretakers and on and on.
It is the way the tentacles of this terrible crime have reached all sections of society and the apparently continuing ease of access to these images which leads me to fear we may be on the brink of something very dangerous – becoming sanitised to a crime that thrives on the sexual abuse of the very young and vulnerable.
Around four in five images feature a child under the age of 11 – including babies – and half of them show children being tortured or raped by an adult.
Fortunately most of us will never see these images, but that doesn’t mean we are immunised against their effects.
Any society that allows such an evil scenario to play out uninterrupted must surely be demeaned and every one of us should feel at least a little guilty while it persists.
Most importantly, we must never forget that these are not just pictures.
They are crime scenes and children have been abused to create them.
There is also evidence that some – not all – of those found with images will have committed other sex offences against children.
So, while the summit’s glow of satisfaction has dimmed, we have to turn to the real and ongoing job in hand: cleansing the web of all child abuse images.
That may sound like pie in the sky, that the web is too intricate and full of dark corners – countless billions of pages where criminals can hide all kinds of material. But we need a zero-tolerance stance.
Do we want to blindly slide into a situation where, a few years down the line, there are endless pictures in existence and so many offenders viewing them that it becomes an almost acceptable part of the downside of life, like burglary or fraud?
Is that the kind of tainted legacy we want to pass on?
It may take time to achieve but we have to commit now.
Twenty-five years ago the NSPCC started raising concerns about the way child victims of abuse were treated when they gave evidence in criminal trials.
There was little enthusiasm at first and it is only in recent months, following our Order in Court campaign, that the Government agreed to improve the situation.
Children will no longer have to be in the court building when giving their evidence and lawyers dealing with abuse cases will need to undergo specialist training.
Likewise, when we pointed out a legal loophole that was allowing sexual predators to target children online, the Government was at first dismissive.
But again, through pressure from our Flaw in the Law campaign, this get-out for abusers has now been firmly closed.
So we can bring about significant improvements to child protection if we set our minds to it and have an effective national strategy which brings together all interested parties – industry, police, child protection agencies and government – and sets an agenda that does not end until we have achieved our goal.
I do not expect this gargantuan task to be achieved overnight. But there is already some promising progress from the Internet Watch Foundation, which monitors websites displaying child abuse images.
Now it has the funding to work pro-actively, instead of waiting for reports to come in, it has identified nearly 28,000 offending web pages – more than twice last year’s total.
Cleaning up the web sounds daunting and has never been attempted before on such a grand scale. But we must make it work.
In five years’ time I do not want to be looking out on a landscape that is still scarred by this problem which damages so many vulnerable lives.
Child protection campaigners say at least 10 “famous” current and former politicians will now face being investigated over allegations of historic abuse.
The figures, including a number who are now dead, have been identified “again and again” by callers to child abuse helplines, it has been claimed.
It comes as Theresa May announced an independent inquiry will look into how the state and other institutions have handled accusations of abuse over the past four decades.
Dr Jon Bird, of the National Association for People Abused In Childhood (Napac), said it looked like the 10 politicians will “at last” face up to the accusations – and warned that he expected more allegations to follow.
He told Sky News: “The names of people in very high places – politicians, senior police officers and even some judges – have been going around as alleged abusers for a very long time.
“Since the Jimmy Savile revelations, there’s been a sea change in the way police and the CPS respond to these sort of complaints and now, at last, it looks like these people are going to be investigated.”
Peter McKelvie, a former child protection manager, said he believed that the number of “prominent figures” linked to an alleged Westminster paedophile network could be “upwards of 20”.
He told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that there was also “a much larger number of people who have known about it and done nothing about it, who were in a position to do something about it”.
Today Mark Sedwill, the most senior civil servant at the Home Office, will be questioned by MPs over the department’s handling of child abuse allegations made over a 20 year period.
The permanent secretary will appear before the home affairs select committee amid questions over the quality of a review he commissioned last year.
Lord Brittan has admitted receiving a file with allegations of an abuse network, but denied any suggestion of a cover-upLord Brittan, the home secretary in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government from 1983 to 1985, has faced questions over his handling of a dossier, compiled at the time by the late Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens, which contained allegations of a predatory paedophile network operating in and around Westminster.
NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless has been asked by Ms May to look into the adequacy of the probe into the way claims were dealt with and the response of police and prosecutors to information which was passed on to them.
And she revealed that a wider inquiry, carried out by an independent panel of experts and given access to all the Government papers it requests, could be converted into a full public inquiry if its chairman – who is yet to be appointed – feels it is necessary.
It is unlikely to report before next year’s general election, but Ms May promised that an update on its progress will be given to Parliament before May 2015.
Prime Minister David Cameron said his Government would leave “no stone unturned” in seeking the truth about widespread allegations of a paedophile ring with links to the establishment in the 1980s.
Social workers have criticised training and supervision on child sexual abuse. Community Care looks at the problems and solutions.
Challenging and distressing child sexual abuse cases have come under scrutiny from social workers who say they need better supervision to manage the emotional impact of working on such cases and access to more and higher quality training.
Practitioners from six local authorities shared their views with Coventry University, commissioned by the NSPCC to produce a report on social work responses to a subject coming under increasing public attention: child sexual abuse and exploitation.
Recent high profile cases and an ongoing historical abuse inquiry in Westminster have pushed the problem up the child protection agenda.
So, why have social workers now criticised their training and supervision, and how can their concerns be remedied quickly?
Nushra Mansuri, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, believes issues in child protection are subject to “fashions and trends” in practice and claims that is exactly what has happened with child sexual abuse.
“Neglect and emotional abuse have been really key talking points for the past two or three years, so inevitably if local authorities believe that’s what they are going to be judged on…there will be a greater focus on those issues,” she says, also arguing that areas under the category of abuse appear to have a “hierarchy”.
Social workers speaking to the NSPCC called for more, and better, training both before and after qualifying to keep their skills and practice up to date. But, with practice ‘trends’ and authorities facing resourcing problems, Mansuri believes training is moved to the backburner.
Brigid Featherstone, a social work professor at the Open University, says training and the organisational cultures must work together. “I think you have to have the proper training and the organisational context [to support the work],” Featherstone says.
Producing specialist isn’t what qualifying is about, says Kate Morris, a professor in social work who at Nottingham University. “We’re equipping our qualifying students to go out and engage sensibly and seriously in continual professional development, you can’t produce specialists at qualifying level,” she says. “What you can do is ensure that they have a real solid awareness that they have the right set of capabilities and competencies and a real willingness to learn.”
Barriers to learning
The goal of qualifying courses is to produce “generic newly qualified social workers” with a grounding across a range of subjects, she says.
She puts specialist learning down to how embedded social work services are in their communities. “Know your community and the issues your community faces and that means you’ve got to have arrangements and systems that make that possible,” she says.
The sensitive nature of child sexual abuse cases, and working directly with service users, can make it difficult for social work students to gain the relevant experience they need.
Ricki Steed, a social work student on the Step Up To Social Work programme, explains: “It’s quite hard to get the shadowing opportunities because it is personal and people don’t want a lot of people around… That’s kind of a barrier to your learning.”
The NSPCC report raised concerns that social work training is too procedural. Steed noticed this in her practice placement, adding this can limit the help practitioners can offer children.
Featherstone acknowledged this too, saying the child protection system has been procedure-driven, but is “slowly developing”.
Space for reflection
Sherry Malik, director of children’s services for the NSPCC and a former director of adults and children’s services at Hounslow council, said it’s important to make sure social workers coming out of education are fit for purpose and properly equipped to do the tasks.
That, Malik says, is “about leaders, directors, assistant directors and managers creating the conditions where people can reflect”.
Key issues for social workers interviewed in the report include: the quality of post-qualifying training; how pressures and caseloads are limiting their opportunities for reflection and how to maintain their own emotional wellbeing.
The student world, argues Mansuri, is limited in terms of having direct influence on cases, but is vital for providing students with the foundation of knowledge for working with these cases. “It’s so important that when social workers are first coming face-to-face with it that they are getting really good support and supervision so they can talk about their own feelings,” she says.
Organisations must ask how they can improve the experiences of social workers and how they can create the right conditions to work in, says Malik. “The whole reason for doing that of course is to be able to support young people who haven’t been listened to.”
Emotional support and early help
David Jones, chair of the independent association of Local Safeguarding Children Board chairs, points out emotional support is “fundamental” to social work practice in all areas. Some services don’t understand this, he says, causing long-term problems with levels of staff morale.
While Mansuri welcomes the recent focus on responding to child sexual abuse, she warns of the “trend” habit in child protection developing and becoming another barrier to learning and practice. Trending issues could also deflect attention from other key areas, she says.
Jones agrees the issue is “very important”, yet warns of getting the child protection focus “out of balance”. Which is a problem that develops from social work being “more at the sharp end” of child protection, according to Mansuri.
If social workers had the freedom to intervene early and give children and families early help, they would be able to identify, and respond to, child sexual abuse in a more constructive way, she concludes.
Wanless inquiry into missing Home Office files also finds no evidence they were deliberately or systematically destroyed
Specific allegations of child abuse made by the former Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens were taken seriously by Lord Brittan when he was home secretary, but they did not involve prominent politicians or celebrities, according to a new Home Office file uncovered by the Wanless inquiry.
Peter Wanless, the chief executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), concludes in his inquiry report into 114 missing Home Office files relating to child abuse in the 1980s that there is no evidence that they were “deliberately or systematically removed or destroyed to cover up organised child abuse”.
Wanless says the record keeping practices inside the Home Office at the time mean it is not possible to reach a categorical conclusion but “we found nothing specific to support a concern that the Home Office had failed in any organised or deliberate way to identify or refer individual allegations of child abuse to the police”.
The home secretary, Theresa May, responded to Wanless’s review of the original Home Office internal investigation into the missing files by asking him to look further at how the police and prosecution authorities handled the child abuse allegations that were passed on to them by the Home Office at the time.
She has also asked Wanless and his co-author, Richard Whittam QC, to establish whether any of the material mentioned in the internal inquiry or in connection with the 114 missing files was passed to the security services, and if so, what action they took.
MI5 responded to the Wanless inquiry by carrying out a search of its own files but said it had not found any relevant to the review.
Wanless says that one relevant 1983 Home Office file, the “Brighton assaults” file, was found after the initial investigation had been completed. It contains correspondence between officials and ministers relating to meetings between Brittan and Dickens in 1983 and 1984, mostly prompted by a desire to respond to a horrific attack on a child in Brighton that had led to front-page headlines.
The file includes a paper setting out the case for and against banning the Paedophile Information Exchange (PIE) that was presented to Brittan on 31 August 1983. “He is recorded in discussion as accepting advice that, with ongoing police investigation into PIE activities, it was not right to be commenting further on banning the organisation,” reports Wanless.
It also contains a departmental briefing for Brittan for a meeting with Dickens on 24 November when he handed over two letters containing specific allegations. In addition, it contains a subsequent letter from Dickens with further enclosed cases for investigation and thanking the home secretary for his “splendid support”.
The cases were passed on to the director of public prosecutions and Dickens was subsequently told that two of the cases could form the basis for police investigations.
“There is no mention of prominent politicians or celebrities in the cases under discussion [in marked contrast to media commentary about these meetings at the time],” adds Wanless.
The inquiry also reviewed the evidence of alleged funding of PIE by the Home Office’s voluntary services unit and concludes on the balance of probabilities that it did not take place. They say they cannot dismiss entirely evidence from a whistleblower that PIE might have been funded as part of a police or security service effort to infiltrate the organisation but found no evidence to support it.