Met Police apologises for strip-searching Black schoolgirl, 15, who was left traumatised

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Met Police apologises for strip-searching Black schoolgirl, 15, who was left traumatised
© Getty Images A review said that racism was likely to have been an influencing factor in the police behaviour

The Metropolitan Police has apologised after a 15-year-old Black girl was strip-searched at a school by officers. A statement from the Met described it as “truly regrettable” and said it never should have happened.

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The incident took place on December 3, 2020, when teachers thought they could smell cannabis and called police. The girl’s intimate body parts were exposed during the incident, during which she was on her period, and the search took place without an appropriate adult present and without notifying the girl’s parent. No drugs were found.

The girl from Hackney, referred to as Child Q for her privacy, told the review: “I can’t go a single day without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up. I feel like I’m locked in a box, and no one can see or cares that I just want to go back to feeling safe again, my box is collapsing around me, and no-one wants to help.”

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A statement from Detective Superintendent Dan Rutland of the Met’s Central East Command said: “We recognise that the findings of the safeguarding review reflect that this incident should never have happened. It is truly regrettable and on behalf of the Met Police, I would like to apologise to the child concerned, her family and the wider community.

“It is wholly right that the actions of officers are held to scrutiny and we welcome this review which was commissioned by the statutory partnership with the support of police. We have already reminded local officers of the appropriate policies in place around carrying out searches in schools. We are conscious that the [Independent Office for Police Conduct] are still completing their independent investigation, so further comment would be inappropriate at this time.”

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A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review found that racism was “likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search”. Teachers told the review that on the day of the search in 2020, they believed Child Q smelt strongly of cannabis and suspected she might be carrying drugs. Child Q denied the teacher’s accusations and they searched her bag, blazer, scarf, and shoes without finding anything of significance.

The teachers contacted the Safer Schools Police Officer, but he was not on-site and recommended they call police and ask for a female officer to attend. Police officers arrived at the school, and female officers conducted the strip search in the medical room. No Appropriate Adult attended, the teachers remained outside the room, and Child Q’s mother was not contacted in advance. No drugs were found.

Child Q returned home after the event, and her mother took her to the family GP who referred her for psychological support. Child Q’s mother told the review that it makes her sick that her child “had to take her sanitary towel off and put the same dirty towel back on because they would not allow her to use the restroom to clean herself”. She told the review that she believed the incident was treated as a “criminal matter”, her daughter was treated “as an adult”, and the events happened because of the colour of her daughter’s skin.

Detailing the severe impact on her daughter, she told the review: “She is not eating, every time I find her, she is in the bath, full of water and sleeping in the bath. Not communicating with us as (she) used to, doesn’t want to leave her room, panic attacks at school, doesn’t want to be on the road, screams when sees/hears the police, and we need to reassure her.

“[She] was a person who liked to be active and get into things. Not now, she has changed. She comes home, goes upstairs in the bedroom and closes the bedroom door. Saying she is doing mock exam studies, she just locks off, saying leave me alone. When sleeping, [she is] screaming in her sleep, I have to watch her.” Child Q’s aunt said she had seen her niece change from “a happy go lucky girl to a timid recluse” who is self-harming and requires therapy.

She said: “Child Q was doing exceptionally well at school, top of the class and getting praised every day for her good work and good conduct. She was even the prefect of her year at one stage. She was progressing well, a happy-go-lucky child, well-loved, and cared for. Then for whatever reason, cracks crept in and she appeared to be singled out by the teachers repeatedly for various things.”

Child Q told the review: “Someone walked into the school, where I was supposed to feel safe, took me away from the people who were supposed to protect me and stripped me naked, while on my period. I need to know that the people who have done this to me can’t do it to anyone else ever again. In fact, so NO ONE else can do this to any other child in their care.”

The review found that Child Q should not have been strip-searched and that she had been exposed to a “traumatic incident” and “undoubtedly suffered harm”. It said the repercussions on the girl’s emotional health were “obvious and ongoing”. Due to the gravity of the case, Ofsted’s national director for social care and regional director for London was engaged and a reference panel including Black and Global Majority Ethnic safeguarding professionals was convened.

Investigations remain ongoing by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) into the conduct of the police officers. The review found the school had followed the correct practice in its concerns about Child Q and the teachers’ initial search, but that the decision to strip search her was “insufficiently attuned to her best interests or right to privacy”.

It found school staff had “insufficient focus on the safeguarding needs of Child Q” and should have challenged the police and sought clarity on their intended actions. Covid restrictions at the time were also found to have “frustrated effective communication” between school staff and the Safer Schools Officer.

Racism, whether deliberate or not, was found “likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search”. The review thought it “reasonable to infer” that it was unlikely the school was informed of the intention of a strip search and that the importance of an appropriate adult was insufficiently explained. The review decided the government guidance on searches needed to be updated, and that the absence of any requirement to seek parental consent when strip-searching children undermines the principles of parental responsibility and safeguarding.

Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, deputy mayor and cabinet member for Hackney Council’s Children’s Services, and the mayor of Hackney, Philip Glanville, said in a joint statement they said: “Child Q was subjected to humiliating, traumatising and utterly shocking treatment by police officers – actions that were wholly disproportionate to the alleged incident to which they had been called.

“This is exacerbated by the fact that the strip search was carried out at school – a place where the child had an expectation of safety, security and care. “Instead, she was let down by those who were meant to protect her.”

Do you have a story you think we should be covering? If so, email josh.bolton@reachplc.com.

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