More than six hundred children suffered ‘intrusive and traumatic’ strip searches by the Metropolitan Police over a two-year period, with black boys disproportionately targeted, figures show.
Some 650 young people aged 10 to 17 were strip searched by Met officers between 2018 and 2020, according to data obtained from Scotland Yard by the Children’s Commissioner.
Of these children, 58% were described by the police as black and more than 95% were boys.
Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza asked for the figures after the Child Q scandal came to light in March.
The 15-year-old schoolgirl was strip searched by police while on her period after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis to school.
The search, by female Metropolitan Police officers, took place in 2020 without another adult present and knowing she was menstruating, according to a backup report.
A review by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP) concluded that the strip search should never have taken place, was unjustified and that racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”.
Four Metropolitan Police officers are being investigated for gross misconduct by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in relation to the incident.
Scotland Yard apologized and said ‘this should never have happened’.
Law firm Bhatt Murphy announced in March that the teenager was taking civil action against the Met and her school to secure “iron commitments that this will never happen again for any other child”.
Since then, the IOPC Fund has confirmed that it is investigating four more strip searches of children between the start of 2020 and 2022, and plans to look into three more.
Figures obtained by the Children’s Commissioner show that the number of body searches of children is increasing every year, with 18% carried out in 2018, 36% in 2019 and 46% in 2020.
In almost a quarter (23%) of the cases, the strip searches took place without an “appropriate adult” confirming their presence.
This is required by law, except in an “emergency”, and this is usually a parent or guardian, but it can also be a social worker, carer or of a volunteer.
Two-thirds of them (70%) involved black boys.
Overall, 53% of all strip searches resulted in no further action, which the Children’s Commissioner says indicates that they “may not be warranted or necessary in all cases. “.
Dame Rachel said she was “deeply shocked” by the figures, which show that a significant number of children “are subjected to this intrusive and traumatic practice each year”.
She is also “extremely concerned” about the ethnic disproportion they reveal, with ethnicity identified as a key factor in Child Q’s ordeal.
She said: ‘I am not reassured that what happened to Child Q was an isolated issue, but rather I think it may be a particularly concerning example of a more systemic issue around child protection. children in the Metropolitan Police.
“I’m still not convinced that the Metropolitan Police systematically consider the welfare and welfare of children.”
Dame Rachel said she had submitted the data to Baroness Louise Casey, who is carrying out a standards review at the Met.
The Children’s Commissioner’s team will request comparable data from all police forces in England.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “The Metropolitan Police are progressing at the pace of work to ensure that children subject to intrusive searches are treated appropriately and respectfully. We recognize the significant impact this research can have.
“We have already made changes and continue to work hard to balance the police need for this type of search with the significant impact it can have on young people.
“We have ensured that our officers and staff have an up-to-date understanding of the policy for conducting a ‘further search’, particularly in relation to the requirement that an appropriate adult be present. We also gave officers advice on dealing with schools, ensuring children are treated as children and considering protecting those under 18.
“More broadly, we have reviewed the ‘additional searches’ policy for those under 18. This is to ensure that the policy is appropriate and also that it recognizes the fact that a child in these circumstances may well be a vulnerable victim of exploitation by others involved in gangs, county lines and the drug trade.