MPS apolgises to black teenage girl after 'traumatic' strip search
The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has issued an apology to a 15-year-old black schoolgirl who was the subject of a ‘traumatic’ strip search which took place without another adult present and in the knowledge that she was menstruating.
The search took place on Thursday, December 3, 2020, when officers were called to a school in Hackney where staff were concerned that the pupil smelled strongly of cannabis and may have been in possession of drugs.
The child’s bag and outer clothing had already been searched by staff at the school prior to police arrival with no drugs found.
Two female officers conducted a further search of the girl in the medical room at the school under Section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act. The MPS said no force was used and no drugs were located.
A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review in relation to the search was published on March 14 and described the episode as “humiliating, traumatising and utterly shocking”.
Her family strongly believe the strip search was a racist incident, and the review found racism was likely to have been a factor and that her experiences are “unlikely to have been the same” had she not been black.
In a written statement to the review, the girl said she cannot go a single day “without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up”.
She said: “All the people that allowed this to happen need to be held responsible. I was held responsible for a smell … but I’m just a child. The main thing I need is space and time to understand what has happened to me and exactly how I feel about it and getting past this exam season.”
She added: “I need to know that the people who have done this to me can’t do it to anyone else ever again, in fact so no one else can do this to any other child in their care.”
Family members described her as changing from a “happy-go-lucky girl to a timid recluse who hardly speaks”, who now self-harms and needs therapy.
The case was referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in May 2021 for investigation.
The IOPC has served three constables with notices advising them that they were under investigation for misconduct over their roles in either carrying out the strip search or involvement in supervising it.
IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem said: “We recognise the seriousness of this case and the concern it has caused in the community following the publication of the Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review into this incident. We have now completed all lines of inquiry for our investigation and we are close to finalising our report. We will look to conclude decision making around that at the earliest opportunity.”
The investigation has examined whether legislation, policies and procedures were followed during the strip search of the girl and we have looked at complaints that the girl’s mother was not given the opportunity to be present during the strip search, and that there was no other appropriate adult present. We have also considered whether the girl’s ethnicity played a part in the officers’ decision to strip search the girl.
Detective Superintendent Dan Rutland of the MPS’s Central East Command said: “We recognise that the findings of the safeguarding review reflect that this incident should never have happened. It is truly regrettable and on behalf of the Met Police I would like to apologise to the child concerned, her family and the wider community.
“It is wholly right that the actions of officers are held to scrutiny and we welcome this review which was commissioned by the statutory partnership with the support of police. We have already reminded local officers of the appropriate policies in place around carrying out searches in schools.
“We are conscious that the IOPC are still completing their independent investigation, so further comment would be inappropriate at this time.”
Commander Dr Alison Heydari of the MPS’s Frontline Policing said: “While we await the findings of the IOPC investigation, we have already taken action to ensure that our officers and staff have a refreshed understanding of the policy for conducting a ‘further search’ and advice around dealing with schools, ensuring that children are treated as children.
“Alongside this, local officers have been briefed on the incident and are alive to community concerns. The report and its recommendations have been shared with our Specialist Crime Review Group and our Continuous Policing Improvement Command to ensure that all opportunities for wider learning are acted on immediately.
“We are in full agreement with the Safeguarding Review that this incident should never have happened. It is truly regrettable and on behalf of the Met I reiterate our apology to the child concerned, her family and the wider community.”