The Children’s Commissioner’s report on strip-searches of children by the Metropolitan Police makes findings of failures to protect children and racial bias
The Children’s Commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, recently published a report on the use of strip-searches on children by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). The report has expressed serious concerns regarding the force’s strip-searching and child protection policies – in particular, highlighting the disproportionate use of strip-searching on Black children.
The Commissioner’s report follows the case of Child Q, which, earlier this year, drew public attention to the strip-searching of children in London. Child Q was a 15-year-old Black schoolgirl who was strip-searched by officers at her East-London school in 2020, after she was wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis. The search took place without the presence of an Appropriate Adult (i.e. an adult other than a police officer, who could act as a support to the child), without Child Q’s parents being contacted, and in the knowledge that she was menstruating.
Sadly, the case of Child Q was far from an isolated incident and, as the Commissioner’s report highlights, was indicative of a growing problem within the Metropolitan Police.
What did the Commissioner’s report find?
The Commissioner’s full report can be read here.
The report found that between 2018 and 2020 the Metropolitan Police recorded strip-searching a total of 650 children. The number of searches increased over that period, with 18% of all searches being carried out in 2018, 36% in 2019 and 46% in 2020.
The age of the children searched ranged between 10 and 17 years old, with 25% being between 10 and 15.
Notably, these searches were used disproportionately against Black children. 58% of the total children searched between 2018 and 2020 were Black. Every year over half of the boys searched were Black – and 2017, 75% of boys searched were Black.
In addition, despite it being a legal requirement that an Appropriate Adult is present when the police strip-search a child, except in cases of serious emergency, 23% of strip-searches of children between 2018 and 2020 took place without an Appropriate Adult.
In 2018 and 2019 Black boys were the most likely to be strip searched without an Appropriate Adult present – in 2018 Black boys represented 70% of strip-searches conducted in this way.
The Commissioner has stated that she is ‘unconvinced that the Metropolitan Police is consistently considering children's welfare and wellbeing’, she ‘is deeply concerned that the MPS has been strip searching children as young as 10 on an almost daily basis’, and that ‘the strip searching of children displays an extremely worrying ethnic disproportionality that particularly affects Black boys’.
What has the Commissioner recommended?
The Commissioner has called for the following changes:
- Amendment of national guidance to ensure that the safeguarding of children is the top priority for the police when undertaking searches.
- Improvements to transparency and scrutiny by ensuring the monitoring information collected from each police force includes sufficient information on the strip searching of children.
- Increased training for all police officers on child protection during searches and in policing practice more widely.
- Greater cooperation between safeguarding services for children in the community.
What do I do if me or someone I know has been strip-searched by police?
If you or someone you know has been strip-searched by the police, particularly if it is a child, and you feel it was not justified or the police did not properly safeguard the person, there may be grounds to make a police complaint or to bring a civil claim for compensation against the police.
Our expert team of police action and human rights solicitors are experienced in representing individuals who have been mistreated by the police, including individuals who have been strip-searched. If you would like to discuss the options available to you, you can make an enquiry on our website here, or call our office on 0207 632 4300.