Children's commissioner seeks data on child strip-searches
The Children’s Commissioner has asked all police forces in England and Wales to provide figures on how many children have been strip-searched by officers since 2018.
Dame Rachel de Souza has written to all forces requesting information on strip-searches of children, after discovering that 650 10 to 17-year-olds underwent “intrusive and traumatising” strip-searches by the Metropolitan Police over two years.
She requested data from the force in the wake of the Child Q scandal, where a 15-year-old schoolgirl was strip-searched while on her period after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis at school.
The figures showed that, in almost a quarter (23 per cent) of cases, strip-searches took place without an “appropriate adult” confirmed to have been present. They also showed that black boys were disproportionately searched.
Dame Rachel is seeking further information from between 2018 and July 2022 from other forces “to reassure myself that these issues are not more widespread”.
She said: “I firmly believe that a police power that is as intrusive and traumatic for children as a strip-search must be treated with the utmost care and responsibility. It must also be accompanied by a robust and transparent system of scrutiny to protect and safeguard vulnerable children.
“To reassure myself that these issues are not more widespread, I am using my unique statutory powers to ask all police chief officers in England and Wales to collect further information on the conduct of this practice across the country. I will be publishing my analysis of this data in full early next year.”
Dame Rachel has met Sir Mark Rowley, the new Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) Commissioner, and is said to be “working constructively” with him.
The case of Child Q drew outrage when it first came to light in March this year.
The teenager was strip-searched by female Met Police officers in 2020 without another adult present and in the knowledge that she was menstruating, a safeguarding report found.
The review, by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP), concluded the strip-search should never have happened, was unjustified and racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”.
Four MPS e officers are being investigated for gross misconduct by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in connection with the incident. The force has apologised and said it “should never have happened”.
A MPS spokesperson said: “Ensuring the safeguarding of every child who is subject to a search is an absolute priority. We got it wrong with Child Q and we are making significant efforts to ensure our approach puts the child at the heart of decision making.
“We have been listening to our communities and partners and have made changes as we balance the policing need for this type of search with the considerable impact it can have on young people.
“We will be happy to cooperate fully with the Children’s Commissioner and to share the progress we are making in this area.”
National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead for the Ethics and Integrity portfolio, Chief Constable Craig Guildford, said: “Police have an important role in ensuring the safety of young and vulnerable people. It is vital that any police interaction is handled sensitively, and that when an officer considers it necessary to search a child that it is carried out in line with policy. In rare circumstances when a more thorough search is necessary, additional safeguards are in place. On all but exceptional occasions, such as an immediate risk of harm to the young person, this will involve the presence of an appropriate adult which is catered for under The Codes of Practice.
“The IOPC recently shared their report and learning following a number of Metropolitan Police strip search cases, which has already seen the National Police Chiefs Council, the College of Policing and the IOPC work together in order to help inform national best practice and to ensure that lessons can be quickly learned from their findings.
“We acknowledge this letter from the Children’s Commissioner. Each chief constable takes this issue very seriously and will respond accordingly. As ever, we welcome the opportunity to continue working with all our partners, including the Children’s Commissioner, in order to understand their detailed findings and to help implement positive change wherever it is required.”