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ZERO PHV drivers acted on child exploitation ‘red flags’ as Leeds police run test purchase exercise

Teenage volunteer cadets and police officers ‘mystery shopped’ private hire drivers to find NONE responded to 'red flag' behaviour around child sexual exploitation in Leeds.

An undercover operation to identify risks around child sexual exploitation in the local hotel and private hire vehicle economy has been run in Leeds.

Officers from Leeds District Safeguarding’s Child Vulnerability and Exploitation Team worked with colleagues from Leeds North West Neighbourhood Policing Team, police cadet volunteers and staff from Leeds City Council Taxi and Private Hire Licensing to run a ‘test purchase’ style operation targeting hotels and private hire vehicles in outer north-west Leeds.

The initiative, which ran on Saturday night, identified some examples of good practice where deliberate suspicious behaviour was immediately reported to the police, but also other examples where increased awareness and training is needed.

With appropriate safety measures in place, officers and cadet volunteers played the role of older men and young teenage girls.

Working to a carefully devised script, the teams engaged in ‘red flag’ behaviour while trying to book hotel rooms or while on private hire journeys.

This included overt conversations about having condoms, lying about being over 18, agreeing not to tell parents where they were, reminding them about gifts bought and referring to buying alcohol.

Other suspicious behaviour included asking to pay for rooms in cash or without identification and discussing being turned away from other hotels.

Over the course of the evening, they visited four local hotels and took four private hire car journeys in between.

Staff at two of the hotels visited called police with their suspicions, and the teams were refused rooms at the other two hotels, but their concerns were not reported. Staff were debriefed by officers on the night to recognise good practice and offer further advice.

The private hire drivers involved were later subject to ‘routine’ checks by uniformed police officers and licensing staff, but none raised concerns when asked about their passengers on the night.

Follow-up work is now being carried out around further training, including night-time economy active bystander training, to bolster existing CSE awareness activity in the hotel and private hire trade following the operation.

Detective Superintendent Lee Berry, Head of Crime & Safeguarding for Leeds District, said: “Tackling child sexual exploitation remains a key focus of our work to reduce violence against women and girls.

“Those working in the hotel and private hire vehicle economy have a key role to play in helping us to identify suspicious behaviour and protect victims from harm.

“The suspicious behaviour demonstrated in this operation was based on our real-life experience of the type of activity we see around child sexual exploitation offences.

“This operation was not about catching people out but about identifying where the risks are and raising awareness so we can work together to prevent, deter and disrupt this type of offending.

“We already carry out awareness training for staff in these areas, alongside our partners at Leeds City Council, and it was reassuring to see that increased awareness in action in the examples where staff dealt positively and flagged up their concerns.

“We are now increasing our awareness training focus on those areas highlighted during the operation where more could have been done to help safeguard young people from child sexual exploitation.

“We will be continuing to carry out similar operations in future as part of our ongoing work to improve awareness and protect young people from exploitation and abuse.”


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