Just over one month ago, I published the findings of a major piece of research into the use of strip searching by police forces against children.
The headlines have been well documented.
Of the 2,847 children aged 8-17 who were strip searched by police forces in England and Wales between 2018 and 2022:
- Nearly a quarter (24%) involved a child aged between 10-15 years old;
- Over half (52%) took place without an Appropriate Adult present;
- 38% were carried out on Black children;
- 95% were carried out on boys;
- 51% resulted in no further action;
- 37% happened at a police station;12% at a home address; and 45% at an unrecorded location;
- 14 cases happened in a police vehicle or a school – the majority of these were in schools;
- 1% were conducted within public view; and
- 6% were conducted with at least one officer of a different gender than the child being searched present.
The resulting debate has been impassioned and picked up across the political spectrum. It has led to an Urgent Question in Parliament and multiple interventions by Peers in the House of Lords.
We cannot forget that this work stemmed from the bravery of one 15-year-old girl who told her story: Child Q, who was strip searched while at school in Hackney. I made it my mission to investigate the use of strip searching after hearing her experience, hoping to find that it was terrible but unique. It was not.
On Tuesday night, I was pleased to contribute to a special joint scrutiny commission meeting at Hackney Town Hall, where councillors and the Hackney Youth Parliament held local partners accountable for their response to Child Q’s case in March 2022. Representatives of the Metropolitan Police, the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime (MOPAC), Hackney Council, and the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership spoke about the action they’ve taken since that case came to light. It considered the recommendations being taken forward in Hackney specifically and how these are progressing.
There remain many hard questions to answer, both on a local level but also – as evidence by my most recent findings – a national one. I welcome the work that Hackney is already doing to review Child Q’s case, and I hope to see many other areas mirroring this approach – because this is not a ‘London issue’, or even an isolated incident.
There is collective shock that these searches have been carried out with such little care, minimal safeguarding and in hugely varied ways depending on where in the country they occur. I made a series of recommendations to tackle these issues, including better training among police forces and a child-first approach to policing led by the National Police Chiefs Council, strengthened and clarified guidelines, and improved data collection and monitoring.
I’m reassured that we are already seeing some progress made against these recommendations, and by the commitments that have been made since they were published last month.
The Home Office has committed to considering the three key recommendations that I have made to them. These include making amendments to the PACE Codes of Practice, making data collection and reporting on strip searches mandatory for all police forces, and reviewing existing legislation around searches. I was gratified to see the Safeguarding Minister, Sarah Dines MP, accepting the former two recommendations during the Urgent Question debate.
The College of Policing has updated its strip search guidance in line with one of my recommendations, to ensure that officers are considering the safety and welfare of any child stopped and strengthening it so that there is full clarity over the use of Appropriate Adults during all searches.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has welcomed the recommendations and is working with my office on following up on cases of concern at 28 police forces.
I want to express my gratitude to Child Q again, and to her family, for their bravery in setting this essential work in train. It is thanks to her, and them, that scrutiny on this issue is increasing; not because of a whistle-blower, or an inspection report, or any kind of accountability measure, but because she spoke out.
We simply cannot tolerate any further cases of this nature – children must be treated as such, and their welfare must be the primary concern.