Sir Thomas Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary, found “inexcusably poor practice at every stage of a child’s interaction with the police”

Ben Gurr for The Times

Hundreds of children are left at risk of sexual exploitation and rape because of systemic failings by Britain’s biggest police force, a watchdog has found.
Three quarters of child protection and abuse cases are poorly handled by the Metropolitan police, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. A senior policing source told The Times: “This is the most damning review in the history of HMIC.”

Last night the watchdog’s findings raised concern that the force was sitting on a Rotherham-style sex abuse scandal. There was alarm among government and policing figures that, despite the focus on child exploitation and abuse scandals in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxford, the Met had not improved its performance.

It is the latest in a series of blows to the reputation of the force. This month an inquiry uncovered 43 failings in Operation Midland, its £2.5 million investigation into an alleged establishment paedophile ring, which resulted in no arrests. This week it emerged that the serial killer Stephen Port was able to continue murdering young gay men with drugs in north London after a series of police blunders.

The inspectorate reviewed a cross-section of Met child abuse and exploitation investigations between February and May this year and concluded that 278 of 374 were “inadequate or require improvement”. The force was more focused on burglary and vehicle theft than on child protection, the report said. The watchdog viewed only a sample of cases but 38 had to be referred for further investigation because “they represented a continued risk to a child or children”.
Sir Thomas Winsor, the chief inspector of constabulary, found “inexcusably poor practice at every stage of a child’s interaction with the police”.

Among the worst examples were a failure to interview a ten-year-old girl who may have been abused by her father and had witnessed her mother being raped and stabbed with a screwdriver. Officers wrongly closed the case of a 13-year-old girl, believed to be sexually active with older men, without speaking to the child or looking into the alleged exploitation, the report said.

Amber Rudd, the home secretary, has ordered quarterly inspections of the Met’s child abuse command. Sadiq Khan, the London mayor, said its treatment of children was “unacceptable”.

The findings will raise concerns over the leadership of Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who is due to retire as commissioner in February. The force said that it had achieved “significant reductions in violence with injury and personal robbery” which disproportionately affect child victims. Martin Hewitt, an assistant Commissioner, said: “We have re-thought how we go about our work to protect London’s most vulnerable. There is still a lot of work to be done.”