Hundreds of children underwent “intrusive and traumatising” strip-searches by Britain’s biggest police force over two years – with black boys disproportionately targeted, figures show today.
Metropolitan Police officers strip-searched 650, 10-17-year-olds between 2018 and 2020, according to data obtained from Scotland Yard by the Children’s Commissioner.
Of these kids, 58% were described by the officer as being black and more than 95% were boys.
England’s Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza requested 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 at school.
Dame Rachel said she was “deeply shocked” by the figures, which show a significant number of children “are being subjected to this intrusive and traumatising practice each year”.
The watchdog was “extremely concerned” at the ethnic disproportionality they reveal, with ethnicity identified as a key factor in Child Q’s ordeal.
Dame Rachel said: “I am not reassured that what happened to Child Q was an isolated issue, but instead believe it may be a particularly concerning example of a more systemic problem around child protection within the Metropolitan Police.
“I remain unconvinced that the Metropolitan Police is consistently considering children’s welfare and wellbeing.”
The figures show the number of strip-searches on children increased each year, with 18% carried out in 2018, 36% in 2019 and 46% in 2020.
In 23% of cases, strip-searches took place without an “appropriate adult” confirmed to have been present.
This is required by law, except in cases of “urgency”, and usually is a parent or guardian, but can also be a social worker, carer or a volunteer.
Seventy percent of these involved black boys.
Overall, 53% of all the strip-searches resulted in no further action, which the Commissioner said suggested they “may well not be justified or necessary in all cases”.
Iryna Pona, of The Children’s Society, said: “We are horrified by the number of children subjected to these searches and it is shocking that nearly a quarter took place without an appropriate adult present.
“Strip searches are intrusive and traumatic, and children are being completely failed if even basic safeguards are not in place.”
She added: “Sadly we often support children who have been groomed and coerced into crimes like county lines drug dealing only to be treated as adults who have made a wilful decision, rather than offered support as victims of exploitation.”
The search of Child Q by female Met officers took place in 2020 without another adult present and in the knowledge she was menstruating, a safeguarding report found.
A review conducted by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership concluded the strip-search should never have happened, was unjustified and racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”.
Four officers are being investigated for gross misconduct by the Independent Office for Police Conduct over the incident.
Scotland Yard apologised and said it “should never have happened”.
A Met spokesman said: “The Metropolitan Police is progressing at pace work to ensure children subject to intrusive searches are dealt with appropriately and respectfully.
“We recognise the significant impact such searches can have.
“We have already made changes and continue to work hard to balance the policing need for this type of search with the considerable impact it can have on young people.
“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.”