Charities have condemned the “shocking” number of children who have been strip searched by the Metropolitan Police without an appropriate adult present.
The overwhelming response to what they describe as the forces’s “appalling” actions comes after data obtained from Scotland Yard by the Children’s Commissioner showed some 650 children aged 10 to 17 were strip-searched by Met officers between 2018 and 2020.
Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza sought out the figures after the Child Q scandal came to light in March, in which a 15-year-old schoolgirl who was on her period was strip-searched by police in 2020 after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis at school.
Iryna Pona, of The Children’s Society (TCS), 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.”
The data from Scotland Yard showed that of the children, 58% were described by the officer as being black, and more than 95% were boys.
The TCS said it is “concerned” by the over-representation of black children in these strip search figures, which only adds to the fears prompted by race and children being treated as adults being identified as issues the Child Q case.
Ms Pona said: “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.”
Runnymede Trust chief executive Dr Halima Begum described the findings as “appalling”, adding it “just underlines how badly our children are being failed by the state institutions there to protect them”.
Such “traumatic” encounters with the police where children are criminalised or treated as adults would have an “unforgivable” impact on their psychological wellbeing, according to Dr Begum.
She said: “These experiences form the main lens through which children view the police, and often their teachers too when these searches happen at school. It’s the start of the breakdown of trust in the people and institutions supposedly there to protect them and keep them safe.
“Children then build perceptions about who, if anyone, is supporting and nurturing them and who is penalising them. It leads to a process of alienating children and young people from the educational opportunities that they should otherwise be embracing.
“Criminalisation and adultification is traumatic, not inspiring. Our children need to be supported to believe they can achieve anything they want to in this life. We know their experiences couldn’t be further from this.”
A spokesman for London mayor Sadiq Khan said: “It is deeply concerning that there are so many cases of children being strip searched by the Met without an appropriate adult present, and there remain serious wider issues with regard to disproportionality and the use of stop and search on young black boys.
“This must change and Sadiq has been absolutely clear with the incoming Metropolitan Police Commissioner about the scale of improvement needed across the force so that every Londoner can feel both protected and served.
“He has also already asked the Met to conduct a review of all strip searches of children to ensure lessons are learnt and is committed to holding them to account on the improvements needed.”
The number of strip-searches on children increased each year, with 18% carried out in 2018, 36% in 2019 and 46% in 2020, the figures obtained by the Children’s Commissioner show.
In almost a quarter (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.
Two thirds of these (70%) involved black boys.
must commit to try to make it happen.
“Otherwise, these things are going to fester.
“As a parent, can you imagine how you would feel if it was your child? Can you just imagine? So this must improve, and I’m not going to stop until it does.”
A spokeswoman for the Independent Scrutiny and Oversight Board, a panel providing external scrutiny of the national police race action plan, said: “The overrepresentation of black children in these figures demonstrates that the harrowing instances revealed by the Child Q incident are not an anomaly but part of broader systemic issues within the Metropolitan Police.”