Child Q was failed by the police and her school – we must do everything we can to ensure this never happens again
The case of Child Q, a Black schoolgirl who was subjected to a strip search at her Hackney secondary school, has horrified us all.
Everyone will agree that this strip search should never have happened. Everyone will agree that Child Q deserves a full apology. Everyone will agree that something went terribly wrong in this case.
But more than just words from the government, we need to know what they will do to ensure there are no more Child Qs.
Firstly, we need the data to know how many children are being strip-searched and then we need a commitment to update the guidance for police officers. The Safeguarding Review published last week contains deeply disturbing details and we need the political will to ensure that this practice is not widespread.
The existing training and guidance is so insufficient, so broad, so vague, it did not prevent a strip search of a child
The Review states that the search involved exposure of her intimate body parts, without an appropriate adult present and with the knowledge that she was menstruating. The child wrote: “Someone walked into the school…took me away from the people who were supposed to protect me and stripped me naked, while on my period."
The child was “made to take her sanitary towel off and put the same dirty towel back on because they would not allow her to use the restroom to clean herself.” “She was made to bend over spread her legs, use her hands to spread her buttocks whilst coughing.” The report concluded the search was unjustified and racism was "likely" to have been a factor.
What is so shocking is that the existing training and the existing guidance was so insufficient, so broad, so vague, it did not prevent a strip search of a child who supposedly smelt of cannabis from happening in this way. I have read the college of policing guidance and PACE on strip searches - they are not clear enough.
Labour is clear that any child who is subjected to strip search, which clearly should be done as a last resort, should be treated as a victim and receive a proper safeguarding response. There should always be a safeguarding review straight away.
Given that the Met and HMICFRS say the smell of cannabis is not good grounds for a normal stop and search of an adult, in Parliament on Monday I asked the minister to confirm that the circumstances described in this review should never have been allowed to happen. New guidance that the minister should already be working on must make this clear.
The government should be taking the lead and publishing the full data on the use of strip searches in our police forces across England and Wales. The government should and could do this straight away. The public deserve to know how many other strip searches of children have happened where there hasn’t been a review that has come to light like this one.
The little data we do have makes for difficult reading. An FOI on strip searches in the Metropolitan Police showed that they conducted 57,733 strip searches on Black people over the last five years. That is 33.5 per cent of all strip searches, while only 11.7 per cent of Londoners are Black.
As a party, Labour has been clear that more needs to be done to tackle racism within the police and wider society. It's the reason we have committed to introducing a Race Equality Act in government to tackle structural racial inequality at source.
There is still a long process ahead before we get proper answers about what happened. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will have to pass their report to the Met, then it will be for the Met to take any action and then the report will be published. We will finally then learn more about what went wrong, how this horrific incident was allowed to happen and why the short report was published two years afterwards. But this is likely to be months away.
This child has been failed by the police and her school. A life forever changed because of the appalling behaviour of those meant to be there to protect her.
The minister said many times in the Chamber that he is waiting for the IOPC investigation, but there are significant faults that this case has brought to light that the government can choose to tackle now – if it has political will to do so.
Ministers should have these words from Child Q ringing in their ears, driving them to act – “I need to know that the people who have done this to me can't do it to anyone else ever again.”
Sarah Jones is the Labour MP for Croydon Central and shadow minister for policing and the fire service.
Get the inside track on what MPs and Peers are talking about. Sign up to The House's morning email for the latest insight and reaction from Parliamentarians, policy-makers and organisations.