Ensuring hotel staff know what action to take when they suspect perpetrators of child sexual exploitation (CSE) are using their premises to commit offences has been the focus of an operation by the Metropolitan Police Service to raise awareness and safeguard children.
The Met Police said that during the last week, officers have been attending hotels across the capital to test their response to a scenario which would be "expected to raise alarm bells and prompt proactive action by staff".
Venues - many of which have previously received training under Operation Makesafe - a training package offering guidance to hotel managers around how to spot the signs of CSE and mitigate risks - were visited by plain-clothed officers in the company of young police cadets.
Attempts were made by the officer to book a room. Often they had large amounts of alcohol on show and tried to pay for the room in cash, refusing to offer any identification.
The hope was that staff working on reception at the venue would recognise the warning signs, refuse to rent out the room, and contact police. Referencing "Makesafe" during the call alerts call handlers to the CSE element and officers will be sent to the scene. The Met Police has not released details of how many hotels performed satisfactorily.
The initiative comes amid an increase in reports of CSE. Met Police figures show that in the last three years up to April 2018 the number of CSE-linked offences in the capital has almost doubled, from 602 to 1,107, while the number of children assessed as being at possible risk of CSE was 40 per cent higher in 2017/18 than in 2014/15, rising from 1,524 to 2,128.
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Chief superintendent Helen Millichap, the Met's lead for CSE, said: "We know that perpetrators of CSE may use hotels to commit offences, which is why Operation Makesafe was initially introduced.
"Makesafe is all about awareness raising and has received wide recognition at a national level, helping us all to keep children safe. We know that CSE is likely to be under-reported, so we rely on people being alert and well-informed about some of the ways that children could be groomed.
"We would far rather someone alerted us and for it to be a false alarm, than for us to miss a chance to investigate. This operation is based on that principle so that even if this type of crime might be very rare for a hotel to see, they are sure about what to do.
"This is about making sure that the training implemented is being put into practice; and what has been established during previous similar operations, is that there are occasions when the correct action is not always being taken. We have been working closely with those within the hotel industry, who understand the importance of the issue and are keen to support our efforts.
"This is not an operation designed to catch people out or blame these venues. We want to encourage awareness in a powerful way. Where the response is not what we would expect, it offers us the opportunity to provide refresher training and reiterate the warning signs.
"By carrying out these operations we are keeping the issue fresh in the minds of those who can take positive action, with a view to preventing offences and safeguarding young people."