Met Police: Two more child strip searches - on boys aged 16 - under investigation by IOPC

In “the majority” of the 11 strip searches a child was suspected to have drugs or weapons on them, but nine searches resulted in no items being found on the child.

Two more child strip searches by the Met Police are under investigation by a watchdog.

A 16-year-old boy was strip searched at Ilford police station after being detained in December 2020, without an appropriate adult present.

While another boy, also aged 16, was strip searched at Bethnal Green police station after being detained in October 2020, also without supervision by an appropriate adult.

It comes after it emerged earlier this year that a 15-year-old black girl, known as Child Q, was strip searched by police officers, while on her period and made to remove her menstrual pad, at a school in Hackney in December 2020, after being accused of possessing cannabis.

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

The incident, which left Child Q traumatised, is now under investigation by regulator the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Child Q told a safeguarding review: “I feel like I’m locked in a box, and no one can see or cares… I can’t go a single day without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up.”

The IOPC is also investigating two other strip searches by Met Police officers: of another 15-year-old girl in a cell in December 2020; and of a child in a separate incident in 2022.

None of the five investigations have yet made any findings.

The Child Q protest in Hackney. Photo: LW

A total of 11 voluntary referrals have now been made to the IOPC by the Met, relating to separate incidents between December 2019 and May 2022.

Eight were received in June after inquiries by the IOPC and a further three in July.

This prompted the two additional investigations.

These incidents all involved children aged 14 to 17 who were strip-searched by officers in custody, or more intimate searches which were carried out outside custody.

A letter to the Met Police acting commissioner Sir Stephen House stated: “Of the 11 children who were searched, two were white, five were black and three were of mixed ethnicity.

“The ethnicity of one child was not recorded.”

Child Q protest. Credit: LW

In “the majority” of the 11 strip searches a child was suspected to have drugs or weapons on them, but nine searches resulted in no items being found on the child.

Nine children of the 11 did not have an appropriate adult present during the search, the IOPC said, and in some incidents officers did not even attempt to try and facilitate this.

Concerns have been raised over children being searched while menstruating, while other children strip searched had vulnerabilities including ADHD, autism or mental health issues.

Six referrals were deemed appropriate for investigation by the Met itself, the IOPC said, while the remaining three are still being assessed to determine any further action.

However, the IOPC has now made recommendations to the Met on strip search safeguards.

The watchdog wants the force to “take immediate steps to ensure any strip searches of children are carried out in line with relevant legislation, national guidance and local policy”.

Child Q protesters at Stoke Newington Police Station. Credit: LW

This is intended to ensure children’s best interests and safeguarding needs are a top priority for officers; that an appropriate adult is present for any search; and that any search of a child “maintains their dignity and takes into account their health, hygiene and welfare needs”.

IOPC director general, Michael Lockwood said: “We have been concerned about what we have seen in the cases referred to us involving complaints about strip searches of children.

“We are acting now by making recommendations stressing that existing best practice and policies should be followed by the Met Police at all times.

“Given the apparent delay in some cases being referred to us, we will now work with the Met to review a sample of complaints, to establish whether the process is working as it should.”

He added: “I have also written to the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) to highlight these concerns and our recommendation, so these can be shared with other forces.

“I have proposed a meeting between relevant policing leads to discuss how we can ensure learning is shared and seek assurance relevant policies are being applied in other forces.

“I hope we can address increasing concerns about the use of strip search powers in England and Wales, to provide assurance that they are only being used when absolutely essential.”