Children are being strip-searched by the Metropolitan Police without an appropriate adult present in almost a quarter of cases, with black boys disproportionately targeted, new data shows.
The research, published by the children’s commissioner for England, revealed that officers from the force conducted intrusive searches on 650 young people aged 10 to 17 between 2018 and 2020.
It was commissioned following the case of Child Q – a 15-year-old black girl who was strip-searched at her school in east London without an appropriate adult present. She was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis.
Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza said that the case had been wrongly described as “a one-off”.
She explained: “In a strip search, your most intimate parts are searched. For any child, that’s going to be traumatic and concerning.”
It is a legal requirement for an appropriate adult to be present, except in urgent situations.
Of the 650 who were searched over the three years, 19 in every 20 were boys and 58% were described by the officer as being black.
Katrina Ffrench, the founder director of Unjust UK, said she was “incredibly horrified” by the figures.
She added: “The numbers are so high because they demonstrate that there’s an issue within the Metropolitan Police and its treatment of black communities across London.
“Unfortunately, young black children are not afforded innocence and the same rights as their white peers.”
In 2018, more than two-thirds of those strip-searched without anyone else present were black boys.
Solicitor Kevin Donoghue has represented children elsewhere in the country who have been through the experience.
“The fallout for these children is very significant,” he said. “The common features and expressions given to me in handling these cases are one of personal intrusion.
“There is a violation by police officers which is very severely felt and one of personal integrity and their bodily autonomy which has been invaded and it is an event which cannot be undone.
“An apology is not enough. Compensation is not enough.”
In the Child Q case, four officers are being investigated for gross misconduct and a serious case review has been carried out.
The Metropolitan Police said in a statement that it is “progressing at pace” to ensure children subject to intrusive searches are dealt with respectfully.
And new measures have been introduced requiring an inspector to give authority before a search takes place.
It added: “We have ensured our officers and staff have a refreshed understanding of the policy for conducting a ‘further search’, particularly around the requirement for an appropriate adult to be present.
“We have also given officers advice around dealing with schools, ensuring that children are treated as children and considering safeguarding for those under 18.”
In more than half of all child strip searches, no further action was taken.
It’s left the Children’s Commissioner questioning why so many are carried out in the first place.
She’s also concerned about “holes in the data” recorded by the Met Police.
“For about one in five of the strip-searched, they can’t even tell me where they took place, so the data collection needs to be better.”