Britain's largest police force has failed to achieve any significant improvement in the quality of child protection investigations several months after a watchdog first raised the alarm, a report warns.
An audit found a string of flaws were still apparent in some Metropolitan Police inquiries involving under-18s, despite inspectors delivering a scathing critique of the work in November.
The latest assessment, which covers the three months to the end of June, flags up delays in visiting victims and a lack of investigation to trace suspects in child sexual exploitation (CSE) cases.
Reviews also showed crimes were not being recorded according to Home Office counting rules for underage sex, while efforts to trace missing youngsters were hit by delays.
The findings were disclosed in a follow-up report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), which last year warned that children in London were at risk due to shortcomings in the Met's response to child abuse and sexual exploitation.
In the original inspection - described as the most damning ever produced by the watchdog - a review of 374 cases found nearly three quarters were handled inadequately or required improvement.
An internal audit team examined a further 170 case files on the back of the initial assessment and the Met reported the findings to HMICFRS.
In its latest report, the inspectorate says: "At present, these findings do not indicate that any significant improvement has occurred in the quality of investigations or the nature of decision making. This is of concern."
The audit found that in CSE investigations:
- There are significant delays in officers visiting the victim and maintaining contact throughout the course of the investigation;
- A lack of investigation to trace suspects or other potentially linked individuals results in a decision to close before inquiries are completed;
- Crimes are not being recorded as per the Home Office counting rules for underage sexual intercourse.
Frequent delays and limited inquiries to establish basic details in missing people cases involving children are also highlighted in the report.
Out of the 170 cases looked at, 97 - more than half - were sent back to the officers for further action.
Of those, 33 had an outstanding matter to be resolved, while seven were re-opened for investigation.
The watchdog concludes that progress has and continues to be made in some important areas but warns there are signs that "improvement activity in some principal areas is not leading to better outcomes for children or improvements in practice".
HM Inspector of Constabulary Matt Parr said: "We have started to see some encouraging progress being made.
"We are aware that some actions will take time to become part of routine practice, but early signs are positive.
"But we are concerned that there are other areas that are less developed, with critical improvements not making enough progress."
Met Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner Graham McNulty said the report refers to an inspection from April this year.
He added: "We are pleased that HMICFRS has recognised the progress that we have made, and continue to make, to improve how we protect children in London.
"However, there is still a lot of work to be done as we implement our plans and improvement processes.
"The initial report had some tough messages for the Metropolitan Police. We fully accepted the recommendations made and are working hard to achieve the improvements required which will take some time to fully deliver.
"Our comprehensive improvement plan will continue until we, and the HMICFRS, are fully satisfied that this has been achieved."
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