A 15-year-old Black school girl who was suspected of carrying cannabis was strip searched by police officers at her school. How unusual is this?
In December 2020, at a secondary school in Hackney, a 15-year-old black girl was taken out of an exam.
Her teachers thought she smelt of cannabis and suspected that she might be carrying drugs.
When questioned, the girl denied it and a search of her bag, blazer, scarf and shoes revealed nothing.
And so, her teachers called the police.
A male and a female officer arrived, shortly followed by another male and female officer. That’s four in total.
After some discussions with her teachers, the girl was escorted to the school’s medical room where she was strip searched by the two female officers. Her teachers remained outside the room and neither the police or the school sought parental consent for the search.
“She was told to remove her clothing, including her underwear, and because they knew that she was on her period, she was told to remove her sanitary pad as well.”Channel 4 News
The girl, who’s only known as Child Q to protect her identity, underwent the most invasive form of search that police officers can use.
She was asked to “bend over, spread her legs, and use her hands to spread her buttocks cheeks while coughing.”
No drugs were found.
Child Q was then asked to go back into her exam, without being allowed to change her sanitary towel, and without a teacher asking whether she was okay, before being sent home in a taxi in clear distress.
“All the adults in the room involved in this have failed. Have failed the child, have failed in safeguarding, and we need to understand why the school felt it necessary to call the police, why they didn’t deal with it themselves, and then it seems quite shocking that the police officers thought it was appropriate to search somebody in that particular way.”Dal Babu, Former Met Police Chief Superintendent
In the eyes of the English law, anyone under the age of 18 is still a child. So how common are cases like Child Q’s?
Over the past three years, the Metropolitan police have stripped searched 5,279 children.
In practice, that figure is likely to be much higher. Because in cases like Child Q’s where there’s no arrest, they’re not included in the stats.
And of the 5,279 children strip searched by the Met, sixteen were agreed between just 10 and 12 years old, and 75 per cent were from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
Here are some protesters speaking outside Stoke Newington Police Station in Hackney after learning about Child Q’s experience.
“A white child would ever have been stripped and searched like that, ok? It’s racism.”Protester outside Stoke Newington Police Station
“25 children were strip searched in Hackney schools last year alone.”Protester outside Stoke Newington Police Station
And Labour MP Diane Abbott…
“Only two of them were white. Only two. Don’t tell me about isolated incidents and bad apples. The reason the police were able to do that to that child, is because they’ve done it before.”Diane Abbott, Labour MP
Hundreds of people have gathered in Hackney over the past few weekends to express solidarity with Child Q, yet they only learnt about her case because it was revealed in a report by the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, or CHSCP, who had been contacted by Child Q’s GP.
The CHSCP revealed between 2020 and 2021, nothing was found in 88 per cent of strip searches performed on children in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, just like in Child Q’s case.
And the Independent Child Safeguarding Commissioner for the CHSCP who led the report, determined racism was an “influencing factor” in Child Q’s treatment.
“The Metropolitan police has apologised over the strip searching of a black school girl who was suspected of carrying cannabis. The force said it should never have happened.”Channel 4 News
Child Q has now launched civil proceedings against the Metropolitan police and her school.
According to her aunt, she went “from a happy go lucky girl to a timid recluse” who’s “now self-harming and requires therapy”.
And more than one year on, the two female officers who strip searched Child Q have only just been moved from front-line duties to desk duties because of the public outcry.
Here’s Leroy Logan, a former police superintendent for the Met speaking about Child Q’s case.
“I was absolutely appalled by it because there were so many breaches of police protocol and safeguarding measures that I just wondered what the officers were thinking of to carry out such an intimate search on safe ground, supposedly in a school, and they didn’t see anything wrong.”Leroy Logan, former police superintendent
The application of the law and policy around strip searching of children is “open to interpretation”.
The Independent Child Safeguarding Commissioner review found that the strip search of Child Q should never have happened, and that there was no reasonable justification for it.
Child Q and her family hope to secure commitments so that such incidents never happen again.
Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.
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