Child Q: Top Hackney Met Police officer ‘mortified’ by strip search

Borough commander Det Ch Insp Marcus Barnett apologised again to Child Q in a briefing, and said: “It should never have happened.”

The chief of the Met Police in Hackney has said he is “mortified” by the strip search of 15-year-old black schoolgirl, Child Q, while she was on her period.

Borough commander Det Ch Insp Marcus Barnett apologised again to Child Q in a briefing, and said: “It should never have happened.”

Speaking on Tuesday, March 29, in a message to the girl and her family, he added: “I am genuinely sorry that this happened and has caused the heartache it has.”

No drugs were found during the search, which was carried out without an appropriate adult present, and while officers were in the knowledge she was menstruating.

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Police at the Child Q protest in Hackney. Photo: LW

An IOPC report on it’s findings is expected soon.

The borough commander contacted the teenager and her family as soon as he learnt in January 2021 about the strip-search carried out by two white police officers at Child Q’s school the month before.

Det Ch Insp Barnett said he had offered to visit Child Q and her family but that offer has not been taken up.

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Supt Dan Rutland, in charge of public protection at Hackney and Tower Hamlets, said: “I would be kicking the school door down if it had happened as a parent.

“For me, extremely embarrassing.”

He added: “In London I think it’s a possibility it could have happened to another child.

“Outside of London – probably not. Do I think it could have happened to a white or black kid in the Cotswolds? No.”

Diane Abbott at the Child Q protest.

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Supt Rutland said there was some evidence that “we adultify kids in London”, adding: “We as a police force probably look on them a little bit more resilient in [that they] come into contact with police a little bit more and therefore, in some way, that hardens the experience and we treat them more like adults.

“There is a lot of work that we need to do around that.”

He said there is adultification training underway.

Det Ch Insp Barnett said: “It has opened up the conversation again and the reality of racism and what does that mean.”

He added: “I’m absolutely of the view that we are not institutionally racist but I am of the view that there is a conversation to be had about racism and what does that mean and how do we safeguard [against it].”

He said there needs to be discussion about how the police become “more attuned to and start to come into line with an anti-racist agenda”, adding: “We are clearly an anti-racist organisation. That’s what we stand for – no place for hate.”

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He said: “There is work to be done around getting closer to diverse black, Asian, ethnic minority communities and understanding lived experience.”

He went on: “I am not sure that if it had been a white girl in a county area or outside of London that this would have happened, but we must wait for the evidence.”

He said the safeguarding review did not say it was a racist incident but that racism may have played a part, deliberate or otherwise.

He said police based in schools play an important role and can help understand the culture in a school community.

Det Ch Insp Barnett said there were seven “more thorough intimate searches” on children aged 10 to 17 out of 162  in Hackney in 2021. Six of these involved black children.

The Child Q protest in Hackney. Photo: LW

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This was out of 228,000 stop and searches in London – 4,300 of them termed ‘more thorough intimate’.

Hackney mayor Philip Glanville has called for an urgent action plan from the Met.

He said: “None of us are in any doubt that this terrible incident, on the back of others, will have a further significant impact on trust and confidence in the police, which is already too low.”

He wants to know what steps the force is taking following the safeguarding report.

Det Ch Insp Barnett said the police will respond to the mayor by the end of the week. He said there has already been training after what happened to prevent a repetition.

“We have been active and busy to prevent this from ever happening again,” he added.

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He said legislation will look at the rules around strip-searches and more intimate searches.

However, he warned if they were ruled out for children entirely, young people could be exploited by criminals, adding: “That could be a very, very dangerous move if that was ever considered.”

He explained: “We know that there are children as young as 12 or 13 who have been walking around the streets of London with loaded firearms.

“If [there are] those willing to exploit young children [and] if there is no law to prevent them being searched, we would only see an increase in young children, in my view, being exploited by the most depraved and the most criminal minds in London.

“And that can never be the case.”