South Wales Police 'did not investigate ID of child sex gang'
Police did not try to identify a child sex gang which exploited a 15-year-old girl for four years, a watchdog says.
Despite more than 40 child protection forms being completed, South Wales Police did not investigate the men or protect other children.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary examined the force earlier this year.
South Wales Police said the report had not given the full details surrounding the cases it mentioned.
HMIC also identified the case of another 15-year-old girl who had been raped by a pupil at her school.
"Although the initial response was good, the girl was not interviewed for five months," HMIC's Drusilla Sharpling said.
The police said the girl had not wanted to be interviewed for that length of time.
The report also said South Wales Police did not understand the extent of child exploitation on its patch.
Inspectors were concerned about:
- A lack of understanding of the extent of child sexual exploitation and an inconsistent response
- Early intervention and long-term inter-agency planning for children who regularly go missing from home is often ineffective
- In cases allocated to non-specialist teams, inquiries and investigations were carried out by insufficiently skilled and knowledgeable staff
- Children being unnecessarily detained in police custody overnight
But HMIC was encouraged that:
- The force was committed to improving child protection services
- Staff were highly committed, hard-working and dedicated
- Officers responded quickly
- There was good management of registered sex offenders
- A strong commitment to working in partnership was present
Ms Sharpling said the force was "clearly committed" and children's welfare was a priority.
"Whilst we saw some quite good practice across the force, there were pockets of poor cases that need to be addressed," she said.
"We were particularly concerned about the difficulties they have in understanding the numbers and the meaning of the numbers of missing children they have in the force area.
"It's really important they get it right because it might be a symptom of child sex exploitation."
The force has been given six weeks to provide HMIC with an action plan on how it will improve the areas criticised.
'Work at victim's pace'
Responding to the findings, Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Holland said the report highlighted areas of good work and improvements were "already under way".
She said: "A lot of the areas identified in this report have already been rectified but the challenges we face are mirrored by every force and the best way to resolve problems in relation to child protection is through a successful multi-agency approach.
"In one of the cases the HMIC highlighted it was reported that we delayed in taking a statement from her for five months.
"That's simply not correct. It was five months before she reported the incident and then we responded to her immediately.
"And we worked with her until she was ready to make that statement and it did take a couple of months. It's right we work at the pace the victim wants to work.
"And the other case talked about a female with an adult male. That male was 16 and the police did respond and there has been arrests.
"The report picked up on that particular victim going on to engage with older men.
"HMIC have reported the facts, but they haven't given the full detail of the case."
Deputy Police and Crime Commissioner Sophie Howe said it was "pleasing" the report reflected the force's commitment to improving how children are protected, but there was more work to do.
"It will be essential to work with care providers and those who inspect them to support their approach to identifying children at risk and responding when they go missing from care," she said.
"We need local authorities to keep working with us to put in place more multi-agency safeguarding hubs, and we need everyone to contribute to our understanding of where and when children are at risk so we can all intervene at an earlier stage," she added.