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IICSA Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse

Children in the care of the Nottinghamshire Councils Investigation Report

B.6: Police approach to allegations of child sexual abuse

National developments

28. As set out in the report by the Crime and Security Research Institute at Cardiff University, commissioned by the Inquiry, the national approach to police investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse has developed over time.142

28.1. From 1963, Home Office circulars referred to the need for police forces to work with local authorities in relation to children in need of care, protection and control. By 1988, sexual abuse was included in the definition of child abuse, joint working with social services was expected and the paramount consideration was the welfare of the child.

28.2. By the end of the 1990s, all forces had child protection units, which “normally” took primary responsibility for investigating child abuse cases. As a minimum, they were required to investigate all allegations of child abuse within the family or against a carer.143

28.3. In the 2000s, both the Laming and Bichard Inquiries144 criticised HMIC for not taking a sufficiently active role in child protection through its inspections of police forces. The Laming report also recommended that police officers in child protection roles should hold senior rank and have appropriate qualifications.

28.4. Since 2010, there has been a significant increase in the volume of allegations of non-recent sexual abuse, and an HMIC thematic review of child protection in eight police forces in 2014–15145 found that some forces were struggling to manage rising investigative demands with “systemic weaknesses” and high workloads. 

Nottinghamshire Police 

29. Practices in Nottinghamshire Police have also developed over time.

29.1. In the 1970s, allegations of child abuse were investigated by officers in its Criminal Investigation Department (CID), who would make decisions on whether to prosecute and report outcomes to children’s social care.[1] Under multi-agency child abuse procedures in the County from 1984, police investigations[2] were to include regular contact with children’s social care and attendance at case conferences. 

29.2. The force’s first specialist resource – the FSU – was established in 1988 to investigate child abuse allegations (although the CID continued to investigate some cases). It expanded over subsequent years to include a referral unit as a dedicated point of contact for all cases referred to the police by children’s social care. In 1994, the FSU was renamed the Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU)[3] and, by 1995, according to the SSI, it had the most officers per capita of all police units in the country specialising in child protection investigations.[4]

29.3. There have been various iterations of procedures and guidance for Nottinghamshire Police on the investigation of child sexual abuse, including in 1992,[5] 1997[6] and subsequently.[7] In 2006, the force published its first specific Child Protection Investigation Procedures, which stated that a thorough investigation was required in all cases of alleged sexual abuse. The CAIU was responsible for investigating all allegations of sexual abuse of children in care by a foster carer or residential care staff member, where the complainant was still a child at the time of the allegation being made. Allegations of non-recent child abuse, where the complainant was over 18 years old at the time of the disclosure, were investigated by the CID.[8]

29.4. In 2011, Nottinghamshire Police formed a Public Protection Department, bringing together “the various strands of police business that feature vulnerability and safeguarding”, including the CAIU, child sexual exploitation and Operation Equinox.[9] 

30. However, a number of recent inspections and reviews identify serious failings concerning Nottinghamshire Police’s investigations of allegations of child sexual abuse (including child sexual exploitation) and its relationship with the Councils.

30.1. A peer review[10] of Nottinghamshire Police’s child sexual exploitation capabilities in December 2014 found that “Social care and police appear to be working well together”. However, it also noted a “structural divide between City and County working” which was creating barriers to joint working, and that “Care Homes and Private providers are apparently engaged with more effectively in the City than the County, largely because of dedicated police post in the City, match-funded by social care … The County approach needs to replicate this standard.[11]

30.2. An HMIC report in February 2015 identified a backlog in child protection cases. For example, there were delays in investigating an allegation of sexual assault made by a 10-year-old boy in foster care. Poor investigations were attributed to a “lack of capacity and the high volume of work”, with “an increase in the number of historic abuse cases”. Inspectors said that “much more needs to be done”[12] and made a number of recommendations, including that the force (together with children’s social care and other relevant agencies) carry out a review to ensure that it was discharging its statutory responsibilities.[13]

30.3. A follow-up inspection, published in February 2016, found that Nottinghamshire Police had implemented some recommendations but “had not undertaken an audit of child abuse and sexual exploitation cases to improve standards”. It also noted that “non-specialist staff, such as frontline officers, were investigating child protection cases without having received training in how to manage them effectively”.[14] In response, the force implemented an action plan.[15] When asked why some of the recommendations were not acted upon earlier, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire, Paddy Tipping, told us:

the Nottinghamshire Police didn’t fully embrace the findings of the 2014 study. They thought it was unfair and misjudged and didn’t pay sufficient attention to providing the reports and actions that were necessary in the three and six months that were asked for by the inspectorate.[16] 

This was ultimately an issue for the Chief Constable, who is responsible for directing and controlling the force,[17] but it is also one of the Police and Crime Commissioner’s “key roles” to hold the Chief Constable to account.[18]

30.4. In August 2016, as part of national recommendations for forces to review each other’s public protection arrangements, Lancashire Police carried out a peer review of Nottinghamshire Police. While it noted “real strength” within the staff and some “positive relationships” with social care, it also identified “significant concern regarding the staffing levels of the public protection team” and “staff dealing with child protection were under pressure and managing high levels of work, comments such as ‘we are waiting for something like baby P to happen’ … appeared common place”.[19] This led to the creation of a multi-agency sexual exploitation panel and a cross-authority perpetrator panel, both attended by the “Police, Social Care and the Charitable/Voluntary sector”.[20] The force also restructured its Public Protection Department, dividing it into three thematic portfolios – (a) children – including the CAIU, child sexual exploitation internet abuse and ‘Working Together’ teams, (b) adults – including rape and domestic abuse, and (c) quality, compliance and strategy – to “Ensure the implementation of national best practices and recommendations from the various sources of scrutiny”.[21]

30.5. In 2016, the HMIC PEEL report rated Nottinghamshire Police as ‘inadequate’ in its effectiveness in protecting vulnerable people from harm and supporting victims, a deterioration since the previous report.[22] The 2017 PEEL report rated the force as ‘requires improvement’ on protecting vulnerable people (although its overall assessment was ‘good’).[23] The Police and Crime Commissioner told us that he was “surprised, disappointed and more than a little irritated, in that it had been made very clear through a succession of HMIC reports that there needed to be improvements in this area.”[24]

31. Chief Superintendent Robert Griffin of Nottinghamshire Police told us that the majority of the issues identified have now been addressed.[25] In particular, a number of the difficulties faced by the force were connected to the “investment of resource into Public Protection. There is a lot of reference in these documents to child abuse being under-resourced, and we put that right.[26] The force, he said, now takes “a much more holistic approach to vulnerability”.[27] It also tracks all HMIC[28] recommendations, under the leadership of the Deputy Chief Constable. As at September 2018, there were 44 separate ongoing ‘actions’ in response to recommendations, covering eight areas, including children in care, investigations, child sexual exploitation and delay.[29]

32. As at October 2018, the sexual abuse of children in care continued to be investigated by officers within the Public Protection Department, either by Operation Equinox (for non-recent abuse) or by the CAIU.[30] Nottinghamshire Police has a specific procedural guide on the investigation of sexual abuse[31] and the ‘Child Abuse Investigation Procedure PD513’,[32] as well as multi-agency procedures.


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