The Metropolitan Police has apologised for a racially motivated intimate strip search of a 15-year old girl wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis. The girl, known as Child Q, had been searched by female officers on school premises without an appropriate adult present, with knowledge that she was menstruating in a way that has been described by an independent review as ‘traumatic’.
A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review recorded that ‘the overwhelming opinion’ was that Child Q had been exposed to ‘a traumatic incident and had undoubtedly suffered harm’ and that ‘there was little doubt’ that the impact had been ‘profound’. ‘The repercussions on Child Q’s emotional health were obvious and ongoing,’ the review said; adding that the incident highlighted ‘unambiguous issues of importance… not least the potential impact of disproportionality and racism’.
Teachers told the review that on the day of the search they believed Child Q was ‘smelling strongly of cannabis’ and suspected that she might be carrying drugs. She denied using or having any drugs in her possession and a search of her bag and clothes revealed nothing. The teachers then sought advice from the Safer Schools Police Officer who was not on site because of Covid restrictions and he recommended that the school call 101. A male and female officer subsequently arrived at the school, followed by another pair of officers.
According to the review, there were 299 ‘further searches’, a term that covers strip searches, conducted in Hackney last year. This included 25 children under the age of 18 and, of that number, 19 were boys and most searches related to suspicions about drugs (20). Six out of 10 searches were of black children (15 in total) compared to two searches of white children.
The family told the review that Child Q had changed from a ‘happy-go-lucky girl to a timid recluse that hardly speaks’ and that she had been ‘let down badly, criminalised, and above all… treated differently because she is Black’. A letter from the girl’s aunt described how she had been ‘made to take her pad off and ‘made to bend over spread her legs, use her hands to spread her buttocks cheek whilst coughing’. The family called the experience ‘undignified, humiliating, and degrading’. ‘No child of her age should have to experience this without due cause.’ ‘She is now self-harming and requires therapy. She is traumatised and is now a shell of the bubbly child she was before this incident,’ the family said.
This is shocking and deeply disturbing. I’m extremely concerned by the findings of this report – no child should ever have to face a situation like this.
It’s entirely right that the incident is being investigated by the IOPC. https://t.co/6TK0D0s6pF
— Sadiq Khan (@SadiqKhan) March 15, 2022
Scotland Yard said the officers’ actions were ‘regrettable’ and it ‘should never have happened’. Jim Gamble, Independent Child Safeguarding Commissioner for the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, said that the ‘ordeal that Child Q experienced cannot be credibly mitigated or excused, she simply deserved better’.