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Essex Police is letting down vulnerable victims, HMIC report finds

22:49 14 December 2015

Domestic abuse (stock image). Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

Domestic abuse (stock image). Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire.

But the force is addressing “significant weaknesses” over how it tackles domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation (CSE) incidents.

Essex Police was one of only four forces to receive an “inadequate” rating in a report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) assessing police force’s effectiveness at protecting vulnerable people from harm.

Inspectors examined how forces respond to and safeguard those who are vulnerable in some way, with a focus on missing and absent children, victims of domestic abuse and how well prepared they are to tackle CSE.

Zoe Billingham, who led the investigations, said: “Essex Police is committed to supporting victims and protecting vulnerable people from harm, but too often its response is poor. There are significant weaknesses in the force’s response to victims of domestic abuse, its response to missing and absent children and in its preparedness to tackle child sexual exploitation.

“The risk to children from households where there is domestic abuse is sometimes overlooked. The force is generally unprepared to tackle child sexual exploitation and it has a poor understanding of the nature and scale of the problem. The risk to missing children is sometimes assessed inappropriately potentially leaving vulnerable children at risk.

“There is confusion about the roles and responsibilities of the officers dealing with victims judged to be at medium and standard risk of harm which results in safeguarding opportunities in respect of victims being missed.

“Not all officers responsible for investigating cases where the victim is at high risk of harm are appropriately trained and experienced.”

But she said the force is “generally good” at identifying vulnerable victims. She said: “An increased force focus on offenders has meant that the proportion of those arrested for domestic abuse who are then prosecuted is increasing,” she said.

“The force recognises the work it has to do. It is encouraging that the force’s senior leadership team has already taken a range of actions aimed at addressing the shortcomings identified by this inspection. We will be closely monitoring how Essex Police responds to our finding.”

Essex Police Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh said: “It is a profoundly disappointing report, but a huge amount of work has been under way for the last two years and more to improve how Essex Police protects vulnerable people.

“With evil crimes like this, we can’t afford the risk of letting victims down, but every day I see and hear stories of us doing the right thing, asking the right questions, taking the right actions and getting evil predators away from vulnerable people.

“I give the people of Essex my commitment that we will not rest until we have improved our culture as a force and the processes by which we work. If you are at risk of abuse or experiencing it, or know someone who is, then please call us. We will do everything we can to help protect you.”

Ch Cons Kavanagh added that, since the inspection six months ago, the force has introduced a “special team” to investigate incidents involving children to identify their risk of CSE and take action.

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