Undercover police reveal 10 out of 14 Leeds hotels and taxis fail to report child sexual exploitation ‘red flags’

Posted: 15th December 2023

Undercover police reveal 10 out of 14 Leeds hotels and taxis fail to report child sexual exploitation ‘red flags’

A multi-agency operation has taken place to test the level of training and awareness in the hotel and private hire economies.

The collaboration with officers from Leeds District Safeguarding’s Child Vulnerability and Exploitation Team working with neighbourhood policing team colleagues in west and south Leeds along with staff from Leeds City Council Taxi and Private Hire.

During the operation, a female officer, with the visible appearance of a girl aged under 18, and an older male colleague played the roles of a victim, with a child sexual exploitation offender.

The pair visited seven hotels and used seven private hire taxi companies, during which they worked with a carefully devised script and engaged in “red flag behaviour”.

They would have 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.

Detective Superintendent Heather Whoriskey, Head of Crime and Safeguarding for Leeds District explained behaviour displayed by the two officers was “based on real-life scenarios and was done in such an overt way that it should have raised significant concerns with those who witnessed it”.

Out of the 14 hotels and taxi services used, only two of seven taxi companies raised concerns about their behaviour and alerted police, as did only two of the hotels.

The private hire drivers involved in the operation had also been subject to “routine” checks by uniformed police officers and licensing staff shortly after the test journey to give them a further opportunity to raise any concerns about the suspicious behaviour of their passengers.

Now follow-up work is being conducted, including night-time economy active bystander training, to strengthen the existing child sexual exploitation awareness activity in the hotel and private hire companies.

DS Whoriskey said these kinds of operations are part of the police’s work to reduce violence against women and girls

“Those working in the hotel and private hire economies have a vital role to play in identifying suspicious behaviour and helping us to protect children from sexual exploitation,” she said.

“The more we can do to improve people’s awareness and vigilance around the signs to look out for, the more we can reduce the opportunities for children to be victimised in this way.

“We are not looking to catch people out when we carry out this type of operation, our aim is to identify where the risks are so we can improve how we work together to prevent, deter and disrupt this type of offending.

“We are keen to work constructively to support local businesses around this issue and have given suitable advice and will be continuing to offer awareness training for staff in these areas.

“We will be carrying out further operations of this kind alongside other work to improve awareness and protect young people from exploitation and abuse.”

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