Thank you, Stephen, and thank you all for coming to this very important event today. I am delighted that you are able to be here and grateful that so many experts in the field of safeguarding have taken time out to respond so positively to our invitation.
None of us needs reminding of the scale and severity of the issues surrounding the sexual abuse of children and vulnerable people. Child abuse is an abhorrent crime, no matter when, or where, it occurs. We are committed to tackling it, in whatever form it takes. Recent harrowing court cases involving children have highlighted that there is more we can do to tackle these appalling crimes and protect child victims of sexual exploitation.
You will all be aware of both the historical and recent cases of child sexual exploitation. Indeed, we have recently seen a number of cases prosecuted in the courts with a number of convictions and heavy sentences handed down. Only this week we have seen convictions for rape and other offences in the trial of Operation Windermere in the Greater Manchester Police area and Operation Dorvalla in London. So, good progress is being made but more needs to be done.
That is why the Prime Minister asked me to lead ministers across government, under a new National Group, to address urgently the missed opportunities to protect vulnerable children and adults.
The Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People National Group is a panel of experts, many of whom are in this room today, brought together to co-ordinate and implement the learning from recent inquiries into historic sexual abuse and current sexual violence cases.
Their input is critical and highly valued by me and the rest of government, and those of you who are here today also have an essential input into the process.
The group will build on the strong foundations across government, but it also needs to address the learning emerging from reviews of historical child sexual abuse cases.
I am determined that the group will work to improve cross government delivery, identify problems and solutions and act swiftly to resolve them. It has already identified nine key areas for action and is prioritising action to prevent abuse happening in the first place, protecting children online, making sure the police can identify and deal with problems and ensure victims are at the heart of the criminal justice system.
I also want the group to look at longer-term, systemic reforms better to protect children and vulnerable people.
I am delighted to be holding this event today to update you on the progress of the group and to launch our action plan for future activity in this area.
In addition, given the growing recognition of the value of innovative multi-agency working approaches, I am also today publishing an accelerated early findings report from work that the Home Office has conducted with the national policing lead, to examine how far local areas have developed enhanced multi-agency working and information sharing models.
This document, which provides information for local areas on key themes and barriers local areas have encountered in delivering multi-agency working and information sharing models we hope will provide a useful resource for areas looking to build on and improve their approaches.
Indeed, only yesterday I saw for myself how such arrangements are proving fruitful during a visit to the Staffordshire MASH and I was incredibly impressed with the approach, the priority they have placed on the issue and the genuinely collaborative and innovative arrangements they have in place to protect children and vulnerable people.
It is clear that recent cases raise a number of important issues not just for the government, but social services, the police, the criminal justice system in how we protect our children. But they also include important lessons for how we safeguard vulnerable people more widely and how our systems treat victims of some of the worst types of crime such as rape.
We want to ensure that all victims of sexual violence and domestic abuse are listened to, dealt with appropriately and sensitively and that they have sufficient confidence in the police and criminal justice system to report the crimes in the first place.
We want every report of rape to be treated seriously from the point of disclosure, every victim to be treated with dignity, and every investigation and every prosecution to be conducted thoroughly and professionally. All rape cases are now handled by prosecutors who have undertaken special bespoke training.
All police forces now have measures in place to ensure that officers are aware of domestic violence and abuse and have the knowledge and skills to deal with it effectively.
Our focus is on the rights and welfare of the victim and we are committed to ensuring that every victim of rape and domestic violence has access to appropriate support.
Whilst my department is leading this work across government we know we cannot deliver this alone. The success of our work and indeed of the group is dependent on your help and support.
But we turn now to work of the new National Group. Reporting to me, and on to the Prime Minister, this group, established in April, meets every 3 to 4 weeks and is currently undertaking a series of comprehensive reviews in nine key areas:
- criminal justice system
- culture change
- supporting victims
- local implementation programmes
Since it was established, the group has accelerated action in four priority areas of prevention, policing, criminal justice system and cyber.
On cyber, the terrible abduction and murder of April Jones and Tia Sharpe have just increased our determination to look at the role of the internet in enabling child abuse and normalising sexual violence.
You will be aware of the Prime Minister’s announcement on Monday about how we aim to tackle child sexual abuse in the online environment. This will be taken forward and linked into the work of the National Group. You will be hearing from Peter Davies on this issue shortly, along with other champions and challengers leading on each of the nine strands of work, who are part of the National Group.
So to conclude, we are absolutely committed to doing all we can to protect children and vulnerable people from sexual abuse.
Whilst many agencies and individuals already carrying out fantastic work in this area, we all need to ensure we learn the lessons from mistakes of the past that are being revealed.
The National Group has set out an ambitious programme of initial action but let me be clear this is just the start of the conversation. Each and every one of you has expertise to bring to this work, and I look forward to your continuing input and advice to help shape the efforts that we all put into tackling these crimes and supporting victims.
The action plan I am publishing today, and which you all now have copies of, is an evolving plan, with actions for all agencies. Of course it’s not a final thought – this is just a starter, and we are open to new and fresh ideas on how to progress this through the National Group as the central hub for developing this work.
So thank you all, and I do hope that you find the day both enlightening and even more importantly an opportunity to feed in your ideas and to pose questions. Without further ado, I will now hand you back over to Stephen Rimmer, Director General of Crime and Policing here at the Home Office, who will take you through the arrangements for the rest of the day.