Operation Linden recommendations - South Yorkshire Police, November 2021

Date published: 08 June 2022 12:25

Operation Linden recommendations - South Yorkshire Police, November 2021

The IOPC identified organisational learning from 91 investigations completed so far, under the umbrella of Operation Linden. Operation Linden investigated a significant number of complaints and allegations relating to the police response to non-recent child sexual exploitation in the Rotherham area. The learning recommendations focus on the recurring themes or issues identified. The IOPC discussed the learning with South Yorkshire Police, interested stakeholders and their own staff who worked on these investigations.

Below is a list of these recommendations, and our force response.


IOPC Recommendation

The IOPC recommends South Yorkshire Police ensures knowledge and skills of those involved in child sexual exploitation work are kept up to date as part of their continuous improvement cycle. This should include: 
• regular training to take into account staff turnover

  • continuing professional development needs
  • any emerging issues and new developments in best practice

Our investigations found officers and staff without the right skills were often expected to lead on child sexual exploitation investigations, and individuals were given tasks they were not trained to carry out.

There have been many improvements in child sexual exploitation training nationally. South Yorkshire Police advised us they have implemented their own new measures to help ensure officers and staff receive appropriate training to deal with child sexual exploitation. This was acknowledged by HMICFRS in its 2018/19 PEEL report which said South Yorkshire Police “develops its workforce and leaders well and understands the skills and capabilities that it needs now and for the future. The force has good professional and leadership development programmes in place…”.

However, there is more work to be done to build on and maintain the knowledge and skills of South Yorkshire Police officers and staff. Police officers we spoke to said they would welcome more refresher training that also includes more recent, and challenging exploitation cases, to help them consider new issues that they will need to be prepared for.

SYP Response

South Yorkshire Police has been continuously working to develop and improve detective skills and training for a number of years. There is a national detective shortage and significant work is ongoing to encourage officers to join the detective career pathway.

The force has increased the number of SCAIDP (Specialist Child Abuse Investigation Development Programme) trained and accredited detectives in force. There has also been a real focus on investing in the support available for the development of detective skills through the crime training department. In 2018 / 2019 a detective training course was developed in conjunction with Sheffield University and delivered to police staff Investigating Officers, many of whom were posted to Protecting Vulnerable People (PVP) teams. In addition to SCAIDP, as part of its Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) improvement plan, the force is planning to deliver the College of Policing SSAIDP (Specialist Sexual Assault Investigation Development Programme) training course to detectives involved in the investigation of rape and serious sexual offences. A detective skills audit has identified training needs going forward and there is also a timeline for the recruitment and training of detectives force wide. Crime Training and Accreditation for PVP teams is regularly monitored via the PVP Performance meeting.


IOPC Recommendation

The IOPC recommends South Yorkshire Police takes steps to ensure that crime recording practice in its public protection departments is compliant with the Home Office Counting Rules for Recorded Crime.

We found many instances where crimes were not recorded when they should have been, including reports of sexual assault or sexual activity with a child. South Yorkshire Police has provided us with detailed information on action to improve crime recording practice. In its 2018 crime data integrity inspection in South Yorkshire Police HMICFRS found that South Yorkshire Police had improved crime-recording processes since the previous report in 2014 and that there was ‘a commitment to crime recording that is victim-focused’. A significant improvement in the recording of sexual offence crimes since 2014 was noted and some good practice in scrutiny and auditing by the force crime bureau and force crime registrar was highlighted. The report also said that vulnerable victims were supported through the force’s safeguarding arrangements, even in those cases that had not been recorded.

However, the 2014 inspection highlighted a cause for concern about crimes involving vulnerable adults and children reported directly to South Yorkshire Police’s public protection department (mostly through professional third-party reports) were not all being recorded. We are concerned that HMICFRS’ re-inspection of crime data integrity in South Yorkshire Police (2020) found there had been no discernible improvement to this. In particular, inspectors found significant under-recording of crimes committed against vulnerable children.

SYP Response

Crime Data Accuracy (CDA) is a high priority for the force and performance is monitored through regular Gold group meetings chaired by the Assistant Chief Constable (Crime). In the 2018 inspection on CDA, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found that the force performance on the recording of rape was a high 95% compliance rate. The report highlighted this as being a ‘credit to the force’.

South Yorkshire Police continues to develop and improve its CDA compliance and recent work in this area includes a peer review by the Force Crime Registrar from West Yorkshire Police, significant audit work around PVP teams and Local referral Units and targeted training and internal communications designed to address identified areas for improvement. In the most recent CDA audit on recorded crimes for Protecting Vulnerable People, a 95% compliance rate was achieved which would put the force in the ‘good’ category. Development work is also ongoing with the Force Control Room and Force Crime Bureau and the CDA Hub to ensure that all crimes (including CSE) are recorded accurately and in a timely manner in accordance with the Home Office Counting rules. Crime Data Accuracy performance is monitored through the CDA Gold Group, Force Performance Days and Quarterly Performance Reviews and forms an integral part of our Qualitative Auditing and Thematic Testing work.

IOPC Recommendation

The IOPC recommends that South Yorkshire Police ensure they have a way of effectively monitoring compliance with the Victims’ Code. This should include the quality of interactions between itself and others and not just a ‘tick box exercise’ of the various entitlements being made available.

Our investigations highlighted many issues with how police officers and staff dealt with child sexual exploitation victims and survivors. South Yorkshire Police has told us about the changes made to improve practice in this area.

The Victims’ Code is an important tool to help criminal justice agencies, including the police, ensure they are providing an appropriate level of service. We note that the Victims’ Commissioner’s national review in 2018/19 found that monitoring of compliance with the Victims’ Code had been almost non-existent across all forces.

SYP Response

The force has an Assistant Chief Constable executive lead on victim care and a Chief Superintendent thematic lead. Compliance with the Victims Code of Practice (VCOP) has been extensively promoted and is monitored by South Yorkshire Police through Force Performance Days and Quarterly Performance Reviews. The thematic lead for victim care chairs a strategic Complete Victim Care meeting with key departments, stakeholders and representatives from districts. This meeting maps the victim journey from initial contact right through to resolution and finalisation. The quality of interaction with victims is key to this meeting rather than merely complying with the requirements of the code. Regular online training events take place to promote and explain the requirements of the code of practice. Through this work the force is confident that it is complying with both the aims and the specific requirements of VCOP.

IOPC Recommendation

The IOPC recommends South Yorkshire Police take steps to ensure that victims are regularly updated, and at least once every 28 days, in line with expectations.

South Yorkshire Police told us that IT system changes mean that once a crime is recorded using Connect (the police records management system) the investigating officer is now prompted to keep victims updated regularly, and at least once every 28 days. However, when we spoke to the local independent sexual violence advisor (ISVA) service manager10, they told us that the updates do not always happen in practice. They said ISVAs regularly receive calls from victims complaining that they have not been updated.

SYP Response

The executive lead and thematic lead on victim care ensure that frequent VCOP audits take place and are planned into the Performance and Governance calendar. The QATT reviews (Quality Assurance Thematic Testing) features specific areas for VCOP compliance including regular meaningful victim updates that comply with and exceed the requirements laid down. These reviews are DI and DCI led, report into the Investigations Governance Group and Force Performance Days and are designed to ensure that the force provides a quality service to the public it serves.

IOPC Recommendation

The IOPC recommends South Yorkshire Police continues to work with the local ISVA service to improve their working arrangements.  This should include:

  • a named point of contact at South Yorkshire Police for use by the ISVA service
  • ensuring that SYP representatives who have contact with victims and survivors fully understand the ISVA service’s role and can explain this to others when needed
  • agreement on how updates are provided to victims and survivors
  • how the ISVA service could be involved in South Yorkshire Police training to help raise awareness about its role and responsibilities and how they can work together.

South Yorkshire Police provided us with information recognising the importance of working with specialists such as ISVAs and child independent sexual violence advisors to support child sexual exploitation survivors, help police maintain contact with survivors, and help officers gather evidence.

They described the process they follow to make a referral to these services, explaining the need to obtain a victim or survivor’s consent or that of a parent/guardian.

However, the local ISVA service manager told us that when an investigating officer does not fully understand or explain the ISVA role, this can directly impact whether or not someone provides consent for their contact details to be passed on. This has the effect of delaying any contact with and support from the ISVA service.

Additionally, ISVAs are not always used as effectively as they could be. Sometimes they are used just to pass on updates instead of there being any direct contact between the officer and the survivor. Sometimes they are not used at all.

SYP Response

South Yorkshire Police are working hard to enhance engagement with the ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) service and collaborate with them to improve its service provision to victims.

The Rape and Serious Sexual Assault (RASSO) force lead is the single point of contact with the service managers within the ISVA services across all areas of South Yorkshire and regular contact is maintained. The ISVA managers attend the quarterly partnership RASSO Steering Group meeting which is aimed at improving standards and service provision.

South Yorkshire Police have recently established a specialist cadre of front-line officers who have received additional training on the initial response to rape and serious sexual offences reports. Three training events took place in December with further events planned for early 2022. Representatives from the ISVA service were keen to be involved in the training and on each training day, ISVAs delivered an input to attendees. This focussed on what the service could offer, the importance of initial and ongoing victim contactand regular liaison with the ISVA, particularly at key stages of the investigation. The inputs have been so well received that the long-term plan is to extend the training provision across the force to ensure that all staff understand the ISVA role and how they can assist in providing support to victims. Planned CPD events and supervisor training throughout 2022-23 will also be used to embed the role of the ISVA service.

The RASSO Force lead has recently refreshed the South Yorkshire Police RASSO delivery plan which incorporates planned surveys and victim feedback through ISVAs in order for the force to continuously improve our service to victims. The first survey has taken place throughout December and January 21 and we will use this feedback to enhance our service provision through training and CPD events and through scrutiny at local level with district RASSO Champions.

IOPC Recommendation

The IOPC recommends that during its mapping exercise South Yorkshire Police continues to engage with communities to strengthen and build trust and confidence in the police service to encourage a willingness to provide information/intelligence to help tackle local issues.

When investigating the handling of child sexual exploitation in South Yorkshire, we found there were missed opportunities to approach community leaders for their views on how to develop community cohesion and/or identify any actions South Yorkshire Police could consider to help tackle child sexual exploitation.

South Yorkshire Police told us it has started a mapping exercise across its four districts to ensure it has contacts in all identified communities to respond more promptly in the future to their needs, understand the potential impact of any national or international incidents on them, and to offer reassurance and support when necessary.

SYP Response

South Yorkshire Police has invested heavily in Neighbourhood policing and prides itself on its engagement with communities. The number of police officers and Police Community Support Officer posts specifically dedicated to Neighbourhood Policing has risen from 268 in 2017 to 450 now. The force has various means at its disposal to engage with communities with all Neighbourhood Policing Teams (NPT’s) having Facebook accounts, Instagram Twitter and Whatsapp as well as holding face to face community meetings. These sites are used to post activity, raise awareness of issues and to request the assistance of the community in tackling all crime including CSE. Districts have Youth Independent Advisory Groups that they run with Youth Services to engage with younger members of the community. All NPTs have monthly webchats where officers and staff can engage directly with the public. NPTs also conduct surveys which feed into local priorities. Each NPT maintains a profile on the community it serves.

Tackling CSE is a high priority for NPTs who work with Children’s Social Care and investigation teams to proactively tackle CSE and safeguard vulnerable children from exploitation. Intensive problem solving work is carried out with children who are frequently reported missing and reassurance patrols take place to protect vulnerable women in the night time economy as part of the force’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) action plan.

The force will build on this work and continue to raise awareness of CSE in the community conducting media campaigns that will encourage third party reporting of exploitation and suspicious activity.

Additional recommendation – issued on 1 April 2022

IOPC Recommendation

The IOPC recommends that South Yorkshire Police continues to improve processes that enable SYP and partner agencies to better collaborate so that information that should be available and considered by everyone is effectively shared, understood and acted upon in a timely fashion. This will help to encourage good practice and enable any issues or misunderstandings about the process to be corrected quickly.

It appeared from our investigations that there was no clearly communicated agreement between South Yorkshire Police and other agencies on what constituted intelligence and how it should be shared. Some South Yorkshire Police officers we spoke to told us that it would have been good to have received feedback on information they had submitted to reassure them they had done it correctly and it was useful. The same type of feedback would also be likely to be helpful to other agencies working with the police. We acknowledge that in many instances it will not be possible, or even appropriate to give feedback.

SYP Response

South Yorkshire Police absolutely accept that during the period of the Operation Linden investigation (1997-2013), the processes for sharing information between partners, tracking activity, and feeding back, were ineffective. Today, that is manifestly not the case, and particularly in Rotherham the Evolve Team represents a comprehensive multi agency response to receiving, managing and acting upon intelligence. These processes have recently been the subject of an independent review commissioned through the Local Safeguarding Children’s Board. The Review Team described finding ‘evidence through police systems, process and its meetings structure of a robust and holistic framework that provides a cradle to grave approach, to not just intelligence management but also to how it monitors the standards of investigations.’

South Yorkshire Police has a culture of continuous improvement and encourages both internal and external challenge in order to achieve this. This recommendation is accepted in that context.

Rotherham has a weekly Child Exploitation Tactical Group (CETG) in place. This is an intelligence led meeting where Police and partners attend to review all new and ongoing intelligence submissions, with a view to identifying and understanding the risks and concerns, along with any safeguarding, evidential or disruption opportunities. Information is shared and actions and plans are identified to mitigate/eliminate risks or create further intelligence development avenues. Missing children deemed to be at risk of exploitation are also considered during this process. Partners who attend the CETG include – Police, Children’s Social Care, Health, Youth Offending Services, Barnardo’s, Local Authority CSE Teams, Housing, Licensing, ASB Officers.

All four Districts have a monthly Child Exploitation Subgroup Meeting, which falls out of the Local Safeguarding Children Partnerships. In Rotherham this is known as a Child Exploitation Delivery Group. Here strategic decisions are taken with regards to the delivery of child exploitation across the partnership, which are reported back to the LSCPB for sign off.

SYP and our partners have embedded and tested multi-agency processes for any child identified as being subjected to or at risk of exploitation, as per ‘Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018’. This can take the form of a multi-agency Section 47 (child at risk if significant harm) Strategy meeting, Child Protection Conference or referral to MACE – Multi-Agency Child Exploitation meeting. All four Local Authorities have Child Exploitation Teams which work closely with Police to identify, safeguard and support victims.

The primary mechanism for multi-agency oversight on cases involving Child Exploitation is the MACE process. This is a national framework and is embedded across all four Districts of South Yorkshire. All Districts hold a weekly MACE which is well attended by multi-agency professionals, including Education, Health, Social Care, Police, Probation, Youth Crime Prevention, Youth Offending Services and Psychological services.

Children most at risk of exploitation are referred into the MACE process, which includes children subjected to both CSE and/or CCE. Action relating to safeguarding, diversion, prevention, and additional support are outcomes from MACE, which is a victim focussed process.

Section 10 recommendation and response

IOPC Recommendation

The IOPC recommends South Yorkshire Police considers how it can assess and demonstrate the impact of action taken to address issues in handling child sexual exploitation. This should include how they understand whether actions have achieved the intended effect and considering how they inform the community of progress made to help improve public awareness and confidence.

SYP Response

The force is constantly looking at ways in which it can improve the trust and confidence the public has in its ability to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE), rape and serious sexual offences. The most recent HMICFRS independent inspection assessed the force as ‘good’ at Protecting Vulnerable People (PVP). The force’s current PVP review will deliver improvements in the way the force investigates all serious sexual offences including rape and CSE and the current work ongoing to improve our response to rape has victim engagement and support as one of its key pillars.

The success of this work will be measured not only through the successful prosecutions secured as a result of these improvements but will also be assessed through our proactive preventative work and through surveys with victims. These surveys will request feedback on how well victims have been dealt with by the force and the agencies supporting it. Victim feedback will be key to monitoring the success of our improvements and this feedback will be obtained directly and through the Police and Crime Commissioner’s (PCC’s) commissioned services such as Independent Sexual Violence Advisors.

The Head of Professional Standards is working collaboratively with the Office of the PCC to implement processes to identify and embed learning from all public complaints, including those relating to CSE.  Processes have also been implemented internally to ensure learning from such investigations and complaints is captured, recorded and actioned. This is reported directly into the Organisational Learning Board chaired by the Deputy Chief Constable.

The force is held to account via the PCC’s Public Accountability Board where it is periodically required to report specifically on CSE. This links directly with our delivery plan on Violence Against Women and Girls. The force media team run regular updates on CSE particularly relating to the successful prosecution of CSE perpetrators. Through a campaign called ‘Don’t be Exposed’, the force uses SnapChat to focus on parents of young people, warning them of the signs of exploitation. The force has a public facing web page on CSE: https://www.southyorks.police.uk/find-out/crime-prevention-advice/child-sexual-exploitation/ . This is regularly updated with news, advice and guidance for the public. The media team are planning a new campaign this year focussing on exploitation. A large part of this will be on CSE, highlighting early signs of CSE and CCE (Child Criminal Exploitation) encouraging the public to take action and make reports to police.