Police forces are not doing enough to stop their officers carrying out sexual abuse, the official watchdog has said.
The finding by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) comes despite previous interventions from the watchdog and high-profile cases of police officers committing sexual abuse.
In December, HMICFRS warned that hundreds of police officers were being accused of sexually abusing victims and suspects in what a senior inspector called “the most serious corruption issue facing the service”.
A subsequent review of police forces’ attempts to tackle the problem by the watchdog found “a mixed picture” and it has pledged to re-inspect forces in 2018 to check progress.
Guardian Today: the headlines, the analysis, the debate – sent direct to you
Michael Cunningham, inspector of constabulary, said: “When police officers and police staff abuse their position for a sexual purpose it has a devastating effect on the lives of victims, and corrodes trust and confidence in the police. It is of great importance that forces are prepared to seek intelligence on this type of corruption, and when they find it deal with it vigorously and decisively.”
“The importance of public trust in the police cannot be overstated, and forces need to do everything they can to ensure this trust isn’t eroded,” he added.
The report cited the 2011 conviction of PC Stephen Mitchell, from Northumbria police, who was given two life sentences after being found guilty of two rapes, three indecent assaults and six counts of misconduct in public office, as “an extreme case but not an isolated one”.
Other officers and staff have since been convicted of using their position to engage in sexual activity with vulnerable people they have met through their work, the report said.
In December, HMICFRS revealed forces across England and Wales had received 436 allegations of abuse of power for sexual gain against 306 police officers, 20 police community support officers and eight staff in the two years to March 2016.
The watchdog recommended that within six months, all forces should have started to implement a plan to achieve the capability and capacity required to seek intelligence on potential abuse of authority for sexual gain.
However, in its review it found 11 force plans contained insufficient information and 15 others had plans but had not yet commenced implementation.
Fifteen had plans in place and had started implementation and two already had all elements in place, the review found.
“This year we assessed forces’ plans for responding to our concerns,” Cunnigham said in the review. “We found a variable picture across the country. There has undoubtedly been impressive work going on at a national level, and in some forces, but we were disappointed to find that this progress is not consistent across England and Wales.”
Other notable cases include DS Robert Dawson, a Metropolitan police officer who had sex with a vulnerable alleged rape victim and was formally dismissed from the force. A tribunal heard that in 2010, while investigating an allegation of serious sexual assault, Dawson engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with the victim.
PC Simon Salway, who had sex with vulnerable witnesses and victims of crime, and fathered a child with one of the women he exploited, was found guilty of six charges of misconduct in a public office at Luton crown court last year.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for counter-corruption, the chief constable Stephen Watson, said: “There is no ‘quick fix’ to address serious abuses of position by police officers – forces need to build practices to spot early signs, implement confidential and accessible reporting practices, ensure all officers are acutely aware of professional boundaries, and take swift action to address any breaches of trust.”