An estimated 35,000 people working for police forces across England and Wales have not been properly vetted, a police watchdog report has found.
The number includes officers as well as non-front line staff and contractors.
The report, by the Inspectorate of Constabulary, said forces must do more to root out sexual predators.
It highlighted the case of Ian Naude, a predatory paedophile who slipped through the net and became a PC. He went on to rape a 13-year-old girl.
The inspectorate said vetting is the “first line of defence” for forces but warns that more than 10% of the police workforce do not have up-to-date vetting.
Among those cited in the report was Naude, who joined Cheshire Constabulary as a student constable.
He was jailed for 25 years in December last year after he preyed on a teenager who he met when he was called to a domestic incident.
At his trial, Naude was described as having joined the police to “gain the keys to a sweet shop”.
According to the report, better vetting would have revealed that complaints involving other children had been made against him to other forces.
It also highlighted the case of West Midlands officer Palvinder Singh, who bombarded vulnerable victims with hundreds of messages.
The inspectors – Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services – scrutinised 43 forces across England and Wales to look at those who abuse their position for sexual purposes. Five forces did not provide any vetting information but some details have since been given.
Inspector of constabulary Zoe Billingham said the estimated 35,000 people who do not have the required levels of vetting could include officers and staff, as well as contractors and volunteers.
She said it was the “best estimate” since forces are inconsistent in how they record this information – but added the number could be higher.
The report added:
- On average 13% of people in each force have not been vetted
- Inspectors believe 37% of the Metropolitan Police do not have the correct vetting
- Nearly half of those working for West Midlands Police, the second biggest force in the country, do not have proper vetting (52%), followed by 42% in Thames Valley Police
Inspectors also said two thirds of forces have outdated technology which means they cannot detect misuse of IT systems.
The report added that in the last three years to the end of March, police watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct said it received 415 complaints under the category about abuse of position for sexual purposes.
But it is not clear in how many allegations of misconduct were found to be proven.
‘Knight in shining armour’
Ms Billingham said she was “deeply disappointed” to find some forces had still not put even “basic” measures” in place, despite inspectors calling for improvements for years.
“Many haven’t taken relatively simple steps from predators who have no place in policing,” she said.
“Most of the victims are women and most of the perpetrators are men.
“Too often their abuser plays the role of the saviour in policing. They play the role of the knight in shining armour.”
And she said there is “no agreed way of passing soft intelligence between forces” when police officers move to a new force, so predators who “get wind” of a complaint “run before they are caught”.
Inspector of constabulary Matt Parr added: “It is entirely possible for someone to be vetted and slip through the net. That’s not an excuse for not doing it [vetting] in the first place.”
The Metropolitan Police said it noted the concerns and recommendations, adding: “The MPS is currently recruiting in large numbers and has made the decision to prioritise the vetting of new police officers in order to grow our officer numbers as quickly as possible. This means that some other cases will take longer, including the re-vetting of existing staff. However, we have taken steps to increase the size of the vetting team to cope with the increased demand.
“This will take some time to become fully effective but good progress is being made.”