Lack of trust in Met Police handling of missing children cases, report warns

London Assembly inquiry makes several recommendations to improve handling of missing children cases, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Susan Hall AM
Susan Hall AM

A lack of trust in the Metropolitan Police is discouraging some parents from telling the force that their children have gone missing, a new report warns.

The issue of missing children in the capital was recently investigated by the London Assembly’s police and crime committee.

The cross-party group of City Hall politicians concluded as part of their inquiry that “low trust and confidence in the police may make parents and carers reluctant to report children missing, and encourage them to search for their children themselves”.

The committee also found that when families and carers do report a missing child to the Met, they can sometimes receive inaccurate information from call handlers.

Kevin Southworth, the Met’s public protection commander, said that investigating missing children “is treated with the utmost seriousness and we have teams in every local policing area dedicated to the task of locating people who go missing”.

Although every incident of a missing child requires a full safeguarding response, the committee’s investigation has found that this is not always being delivered. The committee heard how assessments and responses to missing children are inconsistent across the Met’s basic command units and that police respond in a disjointed way when a child goes missing across police service boundaries.

Susan Hall, the committee’s Conservative chair, said: “Children who go missing from home or care are exposed to the most appalling harms, including gangs, sexual exploitation, violence and trafficking.

“A child going missing is understandably a hugely distressing time for families and carers. Adding delays and inaccurate information from the police to that anguish is unacceptable.

“We also have concerns that when a child returns home after a missing incident, opportunities to understand what has happened and to prevent anything like it happening again are being missed.”

She added: “The issue of missing children is all our responsibility. We hope that the recommendations in our report are taken forward to better prevent children from going missing and find and protect those that do.”

In 2022/23, some 9,370 children went missing in London. Many of these children went missing more than once, resulting in 29,455 separate missing incidents being recorded by the Met. The figure is probably much higher, as many incidents of missing children are not reported to the police.

The committee’s report makes 17 recommendations to the Met Police and to mayor Sadiq Khan. One of these suggests the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (Mopac) should conduct a review of the experiences of parents, carers and staff in reporting children missing in London. This should be used to shape a joint Mopac-Met strategy to improve the process for reporting missing children, the committee said.

Kevin Southworth, of the Met, responded: “Strengthening public protection is a key commitment of the Met’s turnaround plan and as part of this programme of work we are actively developing our approach to missing persons. This report and its recommendations will help inform this vital work going forward.

“Parents and carers must have trust and confidence in the Met to locate and safeguard our young people, and the onus is on us as a police service to earn that trust.”

A spokesperson for the mayor said: “Keeping children and young people safe is a top priority for the mayor.

“It’s crucial we tackle the root causes of why children go missing and that’s why the mayor’s violence reduction unit is working to provide support networks for parents and carers in almost every borough, and investing in programmes to keep young people in school and funding youth work and mentors to provide children with that important stable, trusted adult relationship.

“Alongside that, the mayor is working closely with the Met commissioner to rebuild trust, improve the Met’s performance and enhance their response to Londoners, including reports of missing children.

“He is investing nearly £12million in a new leadership academy for all Met leaders to raise standards and supervision and providing £2.5m to improve the service that Londoners who call the police receive when they need it most.”

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