Page last updated at 13:00 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 14:00 UK

Met 'missed opportunities' over Baby P

By Tim Donovan
Politics Editor, BBC London

Police missed opportunities to gather evidence about the ill-treatment of Baby Peter in the months before his death, according to an unpublished report.

Baby P
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Officers failed to attend medical examinations of the child when previous suspicions of abuse were reported to them, according to a review by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC).

The report was ordered in November after the 17-month-old child's mother and her boyfriend were convicted of causing or allowing his death in August 2008.

The study also highlights under-staffing, poor record-keeping and weak supervision of officers.

The HMIC findings form part of a Metropolitan Police review of its actions over Baby Peter which has never been made public but has been released to BBC London under the Freedom of Information Act.

Baby Peter was put on Haringey Council's at-risk register in December 2006, after being treated in hospital for minor injuries.

In June 2007, he was taken to hospital again with unexplained cuts and bruises.

According to the HMIC, the investigation of these incidents suffered because in both cases detectives did not attend the hospital when important evidence may have been available and "key decisions" were made.

'Unacceptable delay'

The report said: "HMIC considers there were opportunities lost to secure evidence from the body of Baby P at the medical examination, as well as to properly discuss the range and extent of the injuries and neglect with the paediatrician, enabling informed challenge as to the protection arrangements made by the social services."

The report found that detectives failed to follow the guidance of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo).

The Acpo guidance suggests the investigating officer should meet the paediatrician or forensic physician before any examination to discuss its purpose.

That did not happen in Baby Peter's case.

In addition, no photographs of the toddler's injuries were taken and when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) later asked the police for more medical evidence, there was an "unacceptable delay" in obtaining it.

It was wholly desirable for an investigator to be present at the child's medical examination
HMIC report

Criticism was also made of detectives' initial response to a later incident when Baby Peter was treated in hospital in June 2007, two months before he died.

The report questioned why police left social workers to carry out the initial investigation into those injuries over a weekend, before waiting until the Monday before "proactively" pursuing the matter themselves.

"Baby P at this stage was already on the protection register and was also evidently displaying evidence of long-term neglect (weight loss, head lice, dirtiness, infected wounds to his head, earache and discharge and bruising to his body)," the report said.

"It was wholly desirable for an investigator to be present at the child's medical examination and for a supervisor to be in attendance at the referral and strategy meetings."

Supervision 'gaps'

The report also found that the Haringey child abuse investigation team was under-staffed when Baby Peter first came to their attention.

One detective sergeant post was vacant which resulted in "gaps in supervision at operational level".

The report said: "The current supervisory capacity clearly had an impact in respect of the investigation into the first allegation made in December 2006."

After the death of Victoria Climbie, Lord Laming recommended officers at, or above, the rank of detective sergeant should attend all strategy meetings where cases are discussed with senior social workers and health officials.

The HMIC said that this process was "unsystematic" in the Met.

Poorly organised police files and weaknesses in the Met's different computer systems were also identified as hampering child abuse investigations.

The death of Baby P was a tragedy and we are ensuring that any lessons that can be learned to prevent another child from being placed at risk are put into practice
Met spokesman

A lack of integration in IT systems meant it was hard for detectives to get a full picture of the available intelligence.

The report found that the police's Merlin system containing details on all vulnerable children was "inaccessible and time-consuming to search either for supervision or intelligence".

And the HMIC called for better training both for new recruits to child abuse teams and the detective sergeants in the crucial role of staffing referral desks.

These officers decide the Met's first response to allegations of abuse, whether to launch a criminal investigation or refer it back to social workers for further information.

A Met Police spokesman said the force had secured extra money for its Child Abuse Investigation Teams (CAIT).

He said an extra 89 staff were being recruited and that a full training programme was being provided for CAIT researchers and investigators.

He added: "The death of Baby P was a tragedy and we are ensuring that any lessons that can be learned to prevent another child from being placed at risk are put into practice.

"As a result we welcomed the Joint Area Review undertaken by Haringey's Local Safeguarding Children Board and the recent conclusion of HMIC that 'the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) is embarking on significant changes and there has been positive progress'."

Baby Peter's mother, her boyfriend and their lodger were all jailed for causing or allowing the boy's death.

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