Met rebuked for strip searches two years before Child Q case in Hackney

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Report said incidents were not all warranted or properly justified

The Metropolitan police was rebuked by a watchdog for conducting “unjustified” strip searches on children two years before officers performed an intrusive search on a black 15-year-old schoolgirl in a case that has sparked a racism scandal.

Scotland Yard was forced to apologise 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 her of carrying cannabis.

An official investigation into the girl’s treatment, published on Monday, concluded that the search in December 2020 was “unjustified” and that racism was “likely” to have been a factor.

The force was also criticised for its disproportionate use of the tactic on black and ethnic minority suspects in a 2019 report by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary, which found that not all the searches were “warranted or properly justified”.

While the inspectors’ report related to searches in custody suites, it mirrors the findings of the investigation into the case of Child Q. 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, amounting to 16% of detainees.

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 minority ethnic detainees”.

“We concluded that overall not all strip searches were warranted or properly justified,” they wrote.

The investigation into the Child Q case by the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership raised similar concerns, also finding that there had been “no reasonable justification” for that search.

“The review panel held a firm view that had Child Q not been black, then her experiences are unlikely to have been the same,” it added.

Temi Mwale, founder of the campaign group 4Front, called for an end to strip searches on children altogether, and said police had “clearly not” learned from past warnings about their overuse of the tactic. “The power is being abused and so it needs to be taken away,” she said. She added that strip searches could be deeply traumatic for children. “It isn’t just traumatic on that day. This experience stays with them. They feel violated, humiliated and degraded. It stays with them for a long time,” she said.

The Met apologised for the Child Q case, saying it was “truly regrettable” that the search had been carried out. It said it understood that intimate searches had a significant impact on individuals and that they must be carried out with “respect and dignity”.

It claimed the use of “More Thorough, Intimate Parts Exposed” searches – a type of strip search not carried out in custody – was very limited.

“In 2021, the Met carried out MTIP searches in fewer than 2% of stop and searches. Under-18s make up only 6% of all MTIP searches,” a spokesman said. He said the policy for MTIP searches was being reviewed, adding that “all opportunities for wider learning” were “acted on immediately”.

As well as criticism of the Met, the case of Child Q has led to fierce criticism of her school, with nationwide protests outside police stations.

On Friday, video emerged of a large protest by pupils inside the girl’s school. In one video a pupil described the school as a “breeding ground for discrimination”. “School only functions as a place of education if we can trust the teachers to keep us safe. As long as we cannot do that, this is not a school,” he told fellow students.

Ofsted, the schools watchdog, is being called on to examine safeguarding concerns raised by the Child Q case, with campaigners questioning why police were called in the first place. Ofsted said on Friday that it could not confirm whether further inspections would be conducted of the school – rated “good” in its latest inspection – because it had not been named to protect the child’s identity.

Victor Olisa, former head of diversity at Scotland Yard, said there were “unquestionably concerns” relating to safeguarding and pastoral care for students. “There needs to be a real understanding of why the school called the police and why they allowed 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 wider culture. “I think the Met created an environment where officers felt comfortable to behave in that way,” he said. “The only way we’re going to deal this is if we hold leadership to account.”

Chanel Dolcy, a solicitor at Bhatt Murphy, which is representing the family, said Child Q had launched civil proceedings against the Metropolitan police and her school.

In a statement, she said Child Q “seeks to hold both institutions to account including through cast-iron commitments to ensure this never happens again”.

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