South Yorkshire Police criticised over child sex victim protection
There is "serious concern" about the protection given by South Yorkshire Police to victims of child sexual exploitation, a watchdog has found.
Leadership by Chief Constable David Crompton was "unclear" to many officers and staff, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said.
The criticism comes in an HMIC report commissioned by South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright.
He said there had been "a failure of management" at the force.
Mr Crompton must "act immediately" on the findings, he added.
The inspectors criticised the inconsistent response between South Yorkshire Police's four districts - Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham.
It said best practice was observed in Sheffield but staff in Doncaster and Rotherham were struggling with heavy workloads.
The report said: "Many of the staff interviewed for this inspection felt that the emphasis from senior and middle local managers was still more focused on dealing with offences such as burglary and vehicle crime, rather than child sexual exploitation."
South Yorkshire Police said: "A significant amount of work has been done in the last year to enhance our performance and do all we can to ensure our children are safe from this type of harm.
"But there is much more we need to do, as HMIC point out, and we absolutely acknowledge this.
"In particular, we accept that the inconsistency of approach across the four policing districts is unacceptable and it will not continue."'Paramount importance'
Mr Wright commissioned the report in the summer after the authorities in South Yorkshire were criticised by MPs on the Home Affairs Committee for their handling of child sexual exploitation.
End Quote Shaun Wright Police and Crime Commissioner
There is clearly a failure of management to turn my... key strategic priority into operational effectiveness uniformly across the whole force area”
HMIC acknowledged steps had been taken by the force to improve its response to child sexual exploitation but said they "have had mixed success".
Roger Baker, HM Inspector of Constabulary for the Northern Region, said: "HMIC recognises the commitment of the PCC and chief constable to making child sexual exploitation a force priority.
"However, we have concerns that this is not properly being disseminated across local policing districts, and that as a result, children are not always being adequately protected.
"This situation must not be allowed to continue.
"It is unarguably of paramount importance that all children in South Yorkshire receive the same high levels of protection, regardless of the policing district in which they live."
Mr Wright added: "The commitment and effort of officers and staff on the front line of this most heinous of crimes is fully appreciated by me and rightly recognised by the inspectors.
"However, there is clearly a failure of management to turn my, and the public of South Yorkshire's, key strategic priority into operational effectiveness uniformly across the whole force area."
The report makes 15 recommendations, with the most urgent to be implemented immediately and others within three and six months.'Sexual predators'
South Yorkshire Police has found itself a focus of concerns about underage girls being groomed by groups of adult men for sex, particularly in Rotherham.
The spotlight first fell on the town in 2010 when five men, described by a judge as "sexual predators", were given lengthy jail terms after they were found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex.
The prosecution was the first of a series of high-profile cases in the last three years which have revealed the exploitation of young girls in towns and cities including Rochdale, Derby and Oxford.
After the 2010 case, The Times newspaper claimed documents showed how police and child protection agencies in the South Yorkshire town had extensive knowledge of these activities for a decade, yet a string of offences went unprosecuted.
The allegations led to a range of official investigations, including one by the Home Affairs Select Committee.
Earlier this year, The Times published fresh claims that a teenager in the care of social services was allowed extensive contact with a violent adult offender who was suspected of grooming young girls to use and sell for sex.
At the same time, a South Yorkshire law firm announced that it was working on behalf of four women who want to take legal action against Rotherham Council in relation to sexual exploitation when they were teenagers.