To consider South Yorkshire Police’s progress against recommendations made by the Independent Office of Police Conduct in its report: Operation Linden – Learning and Recommendations (November 2021).
At the meeting held on 12 January 2022, Council considered a motion regarding the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) report Operation Linden - Learning and Recommendations. It resolved that the progress of South Yorkshire Police against IOPC recommendations published in November 2021 be regularly monitored, with scrutiny arrangements to be determined by the Chair of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Board.
The Chair welcomed Deputy Chief Constable Tim Forber and Chief Superintendent Steve Chapman from South Yorkshire Police who had been invited to the meeting to give an update.
A report from the Deputy Chief Constable outlining South Yorkshire Police’s response to the IOPC recommendations for improvement was considered with a formal record of actions. The IOPC report was also submitted as background information to this item.
The Deputy Chief Constable introduced the report highlighting that the IOPC recommendations had been accepted in totality by SYP. In order to address the issues raised in its report, the approach that South Yorkshire Police had adopted in relation to child sexual exploitation (CSE) and other areas of offending, was to focus on continuous improvement. This ensured that learning was embedded, and consideration could be given to the capacity of the force to respond.
The Deputy Chief Constable gave an overview of its thematic response to the recommendations:
· VICTIMS – the provision of quality victim care, informed by a trauma-led approach in line with the rights of victims laid down in the Victim Code.
· COMMUNITIES - trust and confidence built with local communities.
· PARTNERS – continuous improvements to partner collaboration and effective information sharing.
· OUR PEOPLE - ensure SYP staff have regular training and their skills were up to date.
· PROCESSES – compliance with Home Office Counting Rules when recording crimes related to CSE
The importance of engaging with communities to ‘spot the signs’ to ensure that children and young people were protected was stressed. This activity was supported through an ongoing cycle of campaigns working with professionals, businesses and the wider public. An example was given of work in hotels to raise awareness of the signs of abuse.
Examples of work with partners were outlined. Independent Sexual Violence Advisors have provided training to specialist frontline officers and further work was planned with first responders to enable them to work with victims sensitively. The Child Exploitation Tactical Group was a co-located multi agency partnership which was able to deal effectively with evidence and intelligence relating to CSE. It was noted that Rotherham Safeguarding Children Partnership - CSE Review Final Report (RSCP) had cited the work of the tactical group as an exemplar of good practice. An invitation was extended to Council Members to see the work of the Evolve Team.
SYP had reviewed the capability and capacity of the force and undertaken a training needs analysis to ensure that more officers were trained to respond to serious sexual assault at a specialist level. It was also noted that all SYP officers would attend its “Child Matters” training which focussed on wider child safeguarding issues and awareness of trauma-led approaches. An invitation to attend the training was extended to the Board.
The challenges of ensuring that crime data accuracy complied with Home Office counting rules were highlighted. It was outlined that crime data was subject to regular auditing to ensure required standards were met. However, IT issues remained a challenge as there was no ideal record management system to record and capture the nuance and complexity of CSE, particularly at the ‘grooming stage’. This was an area for development which was being looked at with IT specialists.
In concluding his presentation, the Deputy Chief Constable referred to the recent review of processes and agencies in Rotherham undertaken by RSCP. However, whilst the draft findings of the review were positive, it was stated that South Yorkshire Police would not ‘rest on its laurels’. It was noted that the pattern of offending seen during years of the Operation Linden investigation had changed significantly with online abuse now presenting greater and more complex challenges. It was highlighted that the police alongside the Council and other agencies and communities, had a collective responsibility to protect children and young people.
Clarification was sought on victims input into victim’s support and care and how their experience was quality checked. It was outlined that at the start of Operation Linden, victims and survivors were initially reluctant to engage with SYP because of their trauma and often negative experience of policing. However, through the establishment of a victims and survivors panel by the Police and Crime Commissioner in 2014, levels of engagement have improved slowly. The panel has informed SYP’s approach and response. Chief Superintendent Chapman outlined the approach taken with all complainants or victims of crime and its consistent application has increased victim’s satisfaction levels. The police case management system ‘Connect’ was able to track investigations if the victim has not been given an update within 28 days and action taken as appropriate. District Commanders had oversight of this process.
SYP and RMBC had sought the views of victims and survivors in cases that had not received a positive outcome (i.e. a charge or summons) through an independent agency, REMEDI, to see if improvements could be made to the way agencies had responded. This feedback had been used to influence the commissioning of services. Victims and survivors were involved in training and professional development as appropriate including work on violence against women and girls, child criminal exploitation as well as CSE.
The volume of CSE current investigations is relatively low compared with wider crime figures. In respect of the 37 active investigations relating to CSE, assurance was given that bespoke wraparound support was given to each of the individuals and through this engagement, there were greater opportunities for the victim’s voice to be heard.
Assurance was given that there was a commitment to neighbourhood policing which would work in partnership with local authority structures. The value of this approach was reiterated as it built confidence of local communities and key partners. Further clarification was sought of the preventative benefits of the roll-out of CCTV, particularly in respect of identifying risk areas and other ‘hot spots’ for child exploitation and organised crime. In respect of neighbourhood teams, details were sought of the number of officers who had received specialist training relating to CSE and sexual violence. It was explained that the specialist training was given to those officers who would be front-line responders, however, there was a commitment to raise awareness of ISVA services and related specialisms across neighbourhood teams. An example of ongoing multi-agency training was given which included neighbourhood teams, to outline how partners can problem solve and share intelligence to disrupt organised crime in local areas.
In respect of the work in hotels (Operation Make Safe), hotel staff had received training which was now being tested to ensure that awareness was embedded and staff responded appropriately to suspicious activity. If there were concerns raised, hotel management had been contacted to ensure that further work was undertaken with its staff. This would be a continuous process.
Reference was made to a previous inspection of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in 2018 had stated that crime had not been recorded when it should have been. Clarification was sought if this was still problematic and what had been done to address this. It was outlined that ‘behavioural’ crime (for example stalking or harassment) had not been captured properly in some instances particularly when there had been multiple incidents, however, assurance was given that victims were receiving a service and crime reports were responded to. The importance of restoring public confidence in crime reporting was recognised and performance across all areas were subject to rolling audits. Examples of work with missing persons were given to illustrate this proportionate approach.
It was observed that the IOPC report and SYP’s response to its recommendations should be viewed as part of a wider suite of reviews of how CSE was tackled as a crime. Clarification was sought how SYP’s response related to previous reports and how learning and progress is captured. It was noted that the IOPC investigation covered the period of the Jay Report (1997-2013) and had taken seven years to conclude. It was reiterated that the IOPC recommendations had been accepted in totality and the previous organisational failures of public services to protect vulnerable children and young people were recognised. There was an ongoing commitment across all agencies to ensure that previous failings were not repeated. However, in doing so, it was important that partnerships, including other police forces and local authorities outside of Rotherham and the sub-region, were forward focussed and able to respond to changing patterns of offending e.g county lines or online abuse.
In respect of online abuse, the importance of preventative work with children and parents was stressed as was work with schools and youth services. It was noted that digital access was constantly evolving and it was important that professionals were able to keep up-to-date with new developments. The Evolve Team was able to provide training and awareness raising to relevant agencies.
Details of what safeguards were in place by SYP to support the process of continuous improvement were sought. Governance arrangements were outlined including performance oversight, public accountability reports to the PCC, monitoring of complaints and reference to the victims and survivor’s panel. The Deputy Chief Constable expressed confidence in the way that the SYP was responding to the challenges of protecting vulnerable adults and children and stated that he wished to see the partnership working across Rotherham at the forefront of good practice in tackling CSE and other forms of child exploitation in the future.
The Chair thanked Deputy Chief Constable Forber and Chief Superintendent Chapman for their attendance.
1. That the update of South Yorkshire Police in respect of progress to date against the recommendations of the Independent Office for Police Conduct report Operation Linden - Learning and Recommendations be noted.
2. That following the consideration of the RSCP CSE Review by this Board, future monitoring arrangements are determined in respect of South Yorkshire Police’s implementation of the IOPC recommendations.