The report of the Independent Police Conduct Authority's investigation of the Roast Busters case makes depressing reading, not least because there was not one case but at least seven cases of underage sex that went largely uninvestigated by West Auckland detectives. The ages of the girls, and the boys who finally boasted of their exploits online, was obviously the reason the police brought no prosecutions. But it is precisely the reason they ought to have acted.

In three of the cases the girls did not wish to proceed after providing statements of complaint but the authority considers investigators should have made further inquiries. Police policy requires "all reports of child abuse must be thoroughly investigated" even in these circumstances.

This was abuse of girls as young as 13 by boys who were not much older, but old enough to ply the girls with alcohol and take advantage of them in ways that surely amounted to rape. Not that rape needed to be proven. Sex with a minor is a serious crime in itself; no question of consent arises.

The report states that it is uncommon for police to prosecute a young person for sex with a person of similar age. This is evidently because it usually involves two young people close in age who are mutually consenting. The law allows the police to decide the public interest would not be served by a prosecution. That was the reason, the authority finds, officers did not act against the Roast Busters. It is reasoning the authority does not accept, finding a number of aggravating aspects to the offences that required some further action.

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"In four of these cases the young women were between two and three years younger than the young men involved. They were vulnerable (due to factors such as their level of intoxication); the extent to which they were willing parties was at best equivocal; and they were subject to sexual acts by more than one young man. The behaviour of the young men was demonstrably unacceptable and required a response."

It does not go so far as to say the boys should have been prosecuted in all cases but it finds the police did not at any stage even make their parents aware of several of the incidents. The father of one was a police officer. It is some comfort that the authority found no evidence that had any bearing on the way the cases were handled. It also found that officers involved treated the girls and their families with compassion, and ensured that they were afforded dignity and privacy.

The authority has acknowledged police must give priority to investigations that are serious or likely to be brought to a successful conclusion, but it found deficiencies in the handling of these cases that could not be attributed to the officers' workloads. This is just the latest occasion in recent years when police have not treated sexual complaints from women with the seriousness they deserve. Each time the department heads have apologised publicly and resolved to improve. It is time perhaps to put women in a position to drive all investigations of sexual predators.