The police strip-searched Child Q because they thought they could get away with it – those involved must face consequences
The strip search of a 15-year-old Hackney school girl has horrified people all over the country and nowhere more so than my constituency of Hackney.
To understand why people are so shocked and disgusted you must understand the context. This was a 15-year-old. She had no history of poor behaviour. But her teachers thought that they smelt cannabis and called the police. The girl was taken out of a mock exam. Then four officers turned up, two men and two women.
It is worth noting that current police guidelines state that the smell of cannabis alone is not a reason to stop and search people in the street. But somehow Hackney police thought it was a sufficient reason to strip-search a schoolgirl. And the police did not just strip off her clothes. She was menstruating. So, the police officers made her take off her sanitary pad, would not allow her to go the bathroom to clean herself up after the search, and insisted that she put on the same stained pad.
To add to the degradation, they made her part the cheeks of her buttocks in front of them. This was presumably so they could see up her anus. Then she was sent back into the exam. It is no wonder that the girl is still traumatised two years later. She has gone from a bubbly high-achieving young woman to an emotional wreck.
The treatment of this schoolgirl seems to hark back to the bad old days in Hackney, when police officers routinely abused their powers
The response in Hackney itself has been extra-ordinary. I have never seen ordinary people in the borough so upset. The children, at the school where it happened, had their own demonstration in the school when they heard about it. There was a picket outside Stoke Newington Police Station last Friday. And on Sunday there was a huge rally outside Hackney Town Hall. The people there were boiling with hurt and anger.
In the past, Hackney Police had a terrible reputation for violence and abuse of power. In the eighties and the nineties at least three black men died in police custody. The saying at the time was, “In Stoke Newington Police Station no-one can hear you scream”. The treatment of this schoolgirl seems to hark back to the bad old days in Hackney, when police officers routinely abused their powers.
Figures that have come out in recent days reveal that a disproportionate number of young black people are stripped searched. Most of these strip searches, around 80 per cent, don’t find anything and it seems that the police are doing them for largely punitive reasons.
They are not strip-searching children to investigate a crime. They are doing it because they think that they can get away with it.
But the school also bears responsibility for events. They were the ones that called the police in the first place. After the strip search, they did not ask the girl what happened. Contrary to best practice, they did not contact the parents. The first the mother knew about it was when her extremely upset daughter returned home. And there was no responsible adult present when the girl was searched. The school does not seem to have exercised any duty of care.
Both the police officers and the teachers involved in the incident should be disciplined. From now on, before strip-searching a young person, the police should take responsibility for making sure that the parents have been informed and that a responsible adult is present.
The Hackney borough commander who presided over this appalling incident should step down.
Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.
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.