Report that not all incidents were justified or properly justified
A guard dog has reprimanded the Metropolitan Police for conducting “unwarranted” strip searches of children two years before officers conducted an intrusive body search of a 15-year-old black schoolgirl in a case that has sparked a racism scandal.
Scotland Yard was forced to apologize last week after it emerged that the teenager, known as Child Q, was strip-searched at her school in Hackney after a teacher wrongly suspected she was carrying cannabis.
An official investigation into the treatment of the girl, published on Monday, concluded that the search in December 2020 was “unwarranted” and that racism was “likely” to have been a factor.
The force was also criticized for its disproportionate use of the tactic on black and ethnic minority suspects in a 2019 report by the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, which found that not all searches were “justified or properly justified”.
While the inspectors’ report relates to searches in custody suites, it reflects the findings of the Child Q case investigation. Published in January 2019, it was based on an unannounced inspection of 15 custody suites in London in 2018 and found that 10,278 people were strip-searched in a 12-month period, representing 16% of those arrested.
Inspectors said the figure was “higher than we normally see,” adding that those subject to searches included “many children and a significantly higher proportion of black and ethnic minority detainees.”
“We concluded that, in general, not all strip searches were warranted or properly justified,” they wrote.
The investigation of the Child Q case by the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership raised similar concerns, also finding that there was “no reasonable justification” for that search.
“The review panel held the strong opinion that Child Q had not been black, so it is unlikely that her experiences would have been the same,” he added.
Temi Mwale, founder of campaign group 4Front, called for an end to strip searches of children altogether, saying police had “clearly not” learned from earlier warnings about the tactic being overused. “Power is being abused and that’s why it has to be taken away,” he said. He added that strip searches can be deeply traumatic for children. “It’s not just traumatic that day. This experience stays with them. They feel violated, humiliated and degraded. It stays with them for a long time,” he said.
The Met apologized for the Child Q case, saying it was “truly unfortunate” that the search had taken place. He said he understood that intimate searches have a significant impact on people and that they must be carried out with “respect and dignity.”
He stated that the use of “further exposed private parts” searches, a type of strip search that is not conducted in custody, was very limited.
“In 2021, the Met conducted MTIP searches in less than 2% of stops and searches. Those under the age of 18 represent only 6% of all MTIP searches,” a spokesperson said. He said the policy for MTIP searches was being reviewed, adding that “all opportunities for further learning” were “immediately acted upon.”
In addition to criticism of the Met, the Child Q case has drawn strong criticism of his school, with protests across the country outside police stations.
On Friday, a video emerged of a large protest by students inside the girls’ school. In a video, a student described the school as a “breeding ground for discrimination”. “School only works as a place of education if we can trust the teachers to keep us safe. As long as we can’t do that, this isn’t a school,” she told her classmates.
Ofsted, the schools watchdog, is being called upon to look into protection concerns raised by the Child Q case, with campaigners questioning why the police were called in in the first place. Ofsted said on Friday it could not confirm whether further inspections would be carried out at the school, rated “good” in its last inspection, because it had not been named to protect the child’s identity.
Victor Olisa, Scotland Yard’s former head of diversity, said there were “unquestionable concerns” related to the protection and pastoral care of students. “There needs to be a real understanding of why the school called the police and why they allowed the officers to search the girl,” he said.
He added that the officers involved in the Child Q case were not “bad apples” but part of a larger culture. “I think the Met created an environment where officers felt comfortable behaving that way,” she said. “The only way we’re going to deal with this is if we hold the leadership accountable.”
Chanel Dolcy, a solicitor for Bhatt Murphy, who is representing the family, said Child Q had brought civil proceedings against the Metropolitan Police and their school.
In a statement, he said Child Q “seeks to hold both institutions to account, including through unwavering commitments to ensure this never happens again.”