A surge in online child sex abuse cases has “overwhelmed” Britain’s largest police force, a watchdog has warned.
The Met Police was “not able to provide the service victims need and deserve” amid staffing pressures and a backlog of cases, inspectors said.
A review of 34 online cases found issues with the way 29 were handled, with 15 sent back to the force.
While the report focused on Scotland Yard, it acknowledged the issue was a “national problem”.
The report, by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS), branded the force’s handling of child exploitation “ineffective”.
An audit of 303 cases found that child protection practice was good in 93, required improvement in 127 and was inadequate in 83.
The watchdog said the Met’s arrangements for investigating online cases involving indecent images of children and sexual exploitation were “not working”.
Its found there was limited capacity in specialist teams, backlogs of work and resourcing pressures, and that officers in some areas were managing more than 100 registered sex offenders each.
Increasing use of social media platforms and channels to distribute, and access child sexual abuse images was a complex challenge in need of a response at a “national level”, according to the report.
It said police and internet companies needed to “understand and exploit opportunities to reduce the access to, and availability of, such images”.
The watchdog first highlighted shortcomings in the force’s response to child abuse and sexual exploitation in a highly critical report in 2016.
While fewer cases were judged inadequate than in previous inspections, HMICFRS said the results indicate that consistency of effective practice “remains weak”.
Opportunities to act quickly and decisively to protect children and prevent offending are still being missed, according to the report.
It added: “We found that lack of supervision, along with the high workload of investigators, is contributing to drift and delays in investigations.”
Cdr Richard Smith, the Met’s head of safeguarding, said: “We are pleased to see measurable improvement in our investigations since the last HMICFRS report was published.
“However, we know that we still have a lot more work to do before our child protection arrangements are consistently as effective as they should be.”