Child abuse investigations rap

SUFFOLK'S top policeman today moved to reassure the county over his force's handling of child abuse investigations, following a damning report.

SUFFOLK'S top policeman today moved to reassure the county over his force's handling of child abuse investigations, following a damning report.

Chief Constable Simon Ash revealed new systems were being introduced to improve the way Suffolk police deals with reports of child abuse after problems with its handling of investigations were confirmed by an inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.

The problems led to the force becoming one of only two out of 43 in England and Wales to be given a poor rating for child abuse investigations.

Mr Ash vowed the new measures would improve the way reports of child abuse were investigated, just days before Suffolk Police Authority prepares to consider a report into the force's overall performance.

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The authority is due to consider a Police Performance Assessment Report produced by the Police & Crime Standards Directorate of the Home Office on Friday.

The report followed an inspection carried out in May and also takes into account the force's performance against a number of indicators for 2006/07.

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Against most of the indicators it was found to be performing well, with its ability to tackle crime deemed “excellent” and its handling of serious crime, such as gun crime, and public protection, such as road safety, judged to be “good”.

Overall, the force was given a “fair” rating for protecting vulnerable people, but when it came to child abuse, some officers were found to be carrying excessive workloads, some cases had not been made the subject of a crime report and the threshold for what was or was not a child abuse investigation varied across the force.

In a report to the authority, Mr Ash said the force “fully accepted” the criticism and added some of the problems were attributable to the huge pressure Operation Sumac, the investigation into the Ipswich red-light killings, had placed on resources.

He said: “I would stress that there is no suggestion that children have been put at risk. The report points to inconsistencies in the training of officers, staffing of the units and in some of our management arrangements.

“This was an area of weakness that we were aware of, having conducted our own internal inspection earlier in the year. We have already taken steps to address the issues raised in the report.”

Among the measures being introduced include the creation of a central referral unit for child abuse cases, assessment of what training staff required and changing staffing levels to match demand.

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