Tens of thousands without proper vetting in police workforce, inspectors warn
Tens of thousands of police officers and staff are working without the proper vetting clearance which could help root out sexual predators abusing their position in forces, inspectors have warned.
Vetting is the “first line of defence” for forces but more than 10% of the police workforce do not have up-to-date vetting, according to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS).
Inspectors scrutinised the efforts of 43 forces across England and Wales and spoke to victims of abuse, as well as police staff and officers, to look at those who abuse their position for sexual purposes.
The report highlighted the cases of rapist Ian Naude – who preyed on his 13-year-old victim while a student Cheshire police constable – and West Midlands officer Palvinder Singh, who bombarded vulnerable victims with hundreds of messages.
In the last three years to the end of March, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) reported receiving 415 complaints under the category about abuse of position for sexual purposes, the HMICFRS said.
But it is not clear in how many cases allegations of misconduct were found to be proven.
Inspector of constabulary Zoe Billingham said there are an estimated “35,000 people working in police forces who don’t have the required levels of vetting at the moment”.
This could include officers and staff – of whom there are some 202,000 working across forces – but could also include contractors and volunteers or outside agencies.
It is the “best estimate” given the difficulties in obtaining exact figures because of the inconsistency in how forces are recording this information, she said, but agreed the number could be higher.
On average 13% of people in each force have not been vetted, with 17 forces telling inspectors that percentage of its workforce had not been subject to the current security checks.
Inspectors believe 37% of the Metropolitan Police do not have the correct vetting, followed by nearly half of the second biggest force in the country, West Midlands (52%), followed by 42% in Thames Valley Police.
Five forces could not initially provide any data when asked – Devon and Cornwall, Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire, Nottinghamshire and West Yorkshire. But some information has since been provided.
All forces were given until December to put in place national standards – which had been introduced in 2006 – and vet all staff. But so far only 25 have met this requirement.
The Metropolitan Police and West Midlands are among the forces which have still not yet met the recommendation, the HMIC said.
Some of the forces have been rated on their ability to behave “ethically” based on their progress in vetting in recent inspections – including The Metropolitan Police which has been told to improve in this area.
Also, two thirds of forces have outdated technology which means they are not able to detect misuse of ICT systems by those abusing their position, inspectors said.
Ms Billingham said inspectors had been calling for improvements for years and she was “deeply disappointed” to find some forces had still not put even “basic” measures” in place.
She added: “Many haven’t taken relatively simple steps from predators who have no place in policing.
She said the matter “should always be treated as serious misconduct whether or not criminal charges ensue”.
Although there was “no evidence of systemic corruption”, she added: “There have been cases in almost every single force” with the National Crime Agency highlighting it as one of the major corruption threats facing UK law enforcement.
There was a whole mix of victims including suspects, victims of crime, children, and vulnerable people, Ms Billingham said, adding: “Most of the victims are women and most of the perpetrators are men.
“Too often their abuser plays the role of the saviour in policing. They play the role of the knight in shining armour.”
She also said police predators who “get wind” of a complaint “run before they are caught and move from force to force”, adding: “There is no agreed way of passing soft intelligence between forces at the moment of transfer.”
Nicola Brookes, an alleged victim of a police inspector accused of having sex with women he met while on duty, called for officers to face annual vetting in response to the report’s findings.
She told the PA news agency informal background checks should also be carried out in order to track down perpetrators and the use of social media by officers in a professional capacity should be curtailed, adding: “I think (this problem) is much more widespread than people think.”
When asked if vetting went far enough to root out perpetrators, inspector of constabulary Matt Parr said: “It is entirely possible for someone to be vetted and slip through the net. That’s not an excuse for not doing it (vetting) in the first place.”
The Metropolitan Police said it noted the concerns and recommendations, adding: “Our vetting process is very thorough and wide-ranging, with more complex cases taking longer to complete.
“The MPS is currently recruiting in large numbers and has made the decision to prioritise the vetting of new police officers in order to grow our officer numbers as quickly as possible.
“However, we have taken steps to increase the size of the vetting team to cope with the increased demand.
“This will take some time to become fully effective but good progress is being made.”