NORTH Yorkshire’s third police commissioner in three years is facing pressure to step down following further criticism that the force is failing to protect vulnerable children.

Leading North Yorkshire councillors have voiced dismay over the lack of progress commissioner Zoe Metcalfe has brought about over the last year after His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) highlighted continuing concerns over child protection.

An HMICFRS report found evidence-gathering delays and a lack of knowledge about online abuse inquiries were reducing North Yorkshire Police’s ability to safeguard children.

Following a reinspection of the force in December, the watchdog revealed police officers had not forensically examined digital devices connected to a suspected child rape six months after they were submitted.

In response, the commissioner, who is tasked with holding the force to account, said both her and her team had been “regularly assured that all concerns would be tackled head on and improvements made at a significant pace”,only to find “12 months later, the force is not in the position I expected them to be in”.

She said: “Not enough has been done and there is simply no excuse – North Yorkshire Police have let the public and the most vulnerable in our society down.  

 “I know that it is my responsibility to increase the accountability of and pressure on the chief constable, to demand answers and not accept anything other than immediate and significant improvement.  

 “Whilst a debrief provided by the inspectorate in preparation for this report revealed North Yorkshire Police still had areas to progress, this progress has been much slower than anticipated – as a result, I am making arrangements for an additional layer of scrutiny – I expect evidence in relation to any assurances I am given.”

Within hours of the report being published Mrs Metcalfe struck a determined tone as she held a public online meeting with senior officers, including chief constable Lisa Winward, where she questioned them over the progress made over ten recommendations.

The meeting heard the force fully accepted the criticisms and was investing in officers’ training and in control room staff, the recruitment of specialist child protection workers, and cutting the time it takes to examine digital devices to less than 72 hours.

The force said it had spent £400,000 on reducing its digital forensics backlog and £1.17m on hiring specialist child protection staff, and was establishing dedicated safeguarding teams in each of the three regions it covers.

Once the elections for City of York Council are concluded the North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime panel, which exists to hold the commissioner to account, will reconvene and consider holding an extraordinary meeting to question the commissioner.

The panel pushed Mrs Metcalfe’s predecessor, Philip Allott, to step down and heavily criticised the county’s first commissioner, Julia Mulligan, over her treatment of staff.

Mrs Metcalfe has confirmed she is seeking to be the Conservative candidate for mayor of North Yorkshire and York, elections for which are due to take place in May next year. She has claimed to be “uniquely qualified” for the role.

Leader of the Opposition on North Yorkshire Council, Councillor Bryn Griffiths said the Liberal Democrat group would be calling for Mrs Metcalfe to resign at the next meeting of the authority.

However, North Yorkshire Council’s Labour group leader Councillor Steve Shaw Wright said the commissioner had been in charge for “nothing but a series of calamitous reports”.

He said: “She is doing very little. Police at the coal face are actually doing a brilliant job across North Yorkshire, but the ones who lead them need to get on with the job they are supposed to be doing.

“They have been short-staffed for a while, but that lays at the door of the Tory commissioner, who should have been banging doors down for a lot longer than this.

“‘Call me Zoe’ wants to be the Conservative candidate for the mayor of North Yorkshire and York, but I think she’s blown it.”

The North Yorkshire Council Independent group leader said the latest criticism showed there was no legitimate reason by commissioners should exist.

Councillor Stuart Parsons said increasing “scrutiny” by calling for the police to provide evidence of progress would only take more police officers off their day-to-day jobs.

He said: “What is the point of a police, fire and crime commissioner if she can’t ensure the force is doing what it is meant to?

“Instead of believing everything she has been fed she should have been investigating what was really going on and then calling them to account.”