Child Q was not a one-off – the Met Police strip-searched 650 children in just two years
I was appalled and shocked to read the Serious Case Review relating to Child Q, which found the system designed to protect and support her had seriously failed.
The Metropolitan Police has committed to learning lessons from this incident but the value in lessons being learnt comes from them not being repeated. That’s what sorry means, it means it won’t happen again. Child Q has been very strong and brave in using her experience to demand changes within the Metropolitan Police. It is beholden on all of us in positions of power and influence to respond to that call.
Today, I am publishing data that I obtained from the Metropolitan Police. It details the practice regarding the strip-searching of children during stop and searches between 2018 and 2020 (with some limited data for 2021).
Between 2018 and 2020, 650 children were strip-searched – at a rate of nearly one a day in 2020. In some cases, these were children as young as 10 years old – a quarter of children searched were aged 15 or under.
Of all boys who were strip-searched, 58 per cent were Black
Under police guidance, an appropriate adult should be present if a child is strip-searched (for example, a parent, social worker, or volunteer). The data showed that an appropriate adult was not present on almost a quarter (23 per cent) of all occasions when the Metropolitan Police strip-searched children between 2018 and 2020.
I was also shocked, but sadly not surprised after the experiences of Child Q, to learn that of all boys who were strip-searched, 58 per cent were Black, as described by the officer.
Fifty-three per cent of all strip searches of children resulted in no further action taken, which calls into question how justified these intrusive and traumatising searches were.
Finally, the data is concerningly poor on where children were strip-searched. While the police do not consider that any strip-searches of a child happened at a school in 2021, I am concerned that poor data collection demonstrates a lack of appropriate oversight of police practice in the strip-searching of children.
In light of these findings, I am not reassured that what happened to Child Q was an isolated issue, though it was certainly rare and the context unique. Instead, I believe it indicates more systemic problems around child protection. I remain unconvinced that the Metropolitan Police is consistently considering children's welfare and wellbeing.
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. Practice in this area is not currently consistent across England.
I am keen to work with the Metropolitan Police and the incoming Metropolitan Police Commissioner to improve practice in London, and I will be replicating this analysis by requesting data from all police forces in England.
I will also be engaging with the national policy framework for police strip-searches to ensure that children are properly safeguarded and that searches are only ever undertaken where there is an immediate risk of harm to the child themselves or someone else.
I will continue to work to ensure that strip-searching is only undertaken when absolutely justified, and that appropriate safeguards are in place to protect children, and to ensure that they are fully supported and cared for after a search has taken place.
Dame Rachel de Souza is Children’s Commissioner for England.
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