Headteacher at school where girl, 15, was strip-searched steps down over 'health issues'

21 April 2022, 10:40

The headteacher at a Hackney school where a black teen was wrongly strip-searched, has stepped down
The headteacher at a Hackney school where a black teen was wrongly strip-searched, has stepped down. Picture: Alamy

By Megan Hinton

The headteacher at a Hackney school where a black teenage girl was strip-searched while on her period has stepped down.

In a letter sent to parents, the East London school said the headteacher was leaving due to 'health issues' but adds that an "outstanding" replacement has already been appointed to take over the role.

The school and Metropolitan Police came under fire after a safeguarding report revealed that a black student was taken out of an exam and strip searched by two officers after teachers wrongly accused the girl of carrying cannabis.

A safeguarding review concluded that the strip search was unjustified and racism "was likely to have been an influencing factor".

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The "traumatic" search by two officers took place at the Hackney secondary school in 2020 without another adult present and in the knowledge that the girl was menstruating.

The governing board said the school "was not aware that a strip-search was taking place".

They said in a statement: "The incident involving Child Q is harrowing, and we understand and share the sadness and anger that is being felt by the community.

"While the school was not aware that a strip-search was taking place, we wholly accept that the child should not have been left in the situation that she was.

"For this, we have offered a full and formal apology to Child Q and her family, and continue to work with them to provide what support we can."

According to the report, the impact on the secondary school pupil - referred to as Child Q - was "profound" and the repercussions "obvious and ongoing".

Family members described her as changing from a "happy-go-lucky girl to a timid recluse that hardly speaks", who now self-harms and needs therapy.

Scotland Yard has apologised and said the incident "should never have happened".

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The Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review, published in March, was conducted by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP) following the incident at the end of 2020.

It said police arrived at the school after being called by teachers, who told the review they had been concerned the teenager had drugs in her possession because she smelt of cannabis.

She was taken to the medical room and strip searched by two female officers, while teachers remained outside.

During the ordeal her intimate body parts were exposed and she was made to take off her sanitary towel, bend over spread her legs and use her hands to spread her buttocks whilst coughing, according to the review.

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No drugs were found.

She was then sent home by taxi, later sharing her distress with her mother.

Her family strongly believe the strip search was a racist incident "due to her being black and her extreme large head of locks".

The review found her experiences are "unlikely to have been the same" had she not been black.

It said it is highly likely that "adultification bias" was a factor - where adults perceive black children as being older than they are because they see them as more "streetwise".

It reads: "The disproportionate decision to strip search Child Q is unlikely to have been disconnected from her ethnicity and her background as a child growing up on an estate in Hackney."

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In a written statement to the review, the girl said she cannot go a single day "without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up".

She said: "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.

Adding: "I don’t know if I’m going to feel normal again. But I do know this can't happen to anyone, ever again.

"All the people that allowed this to happen need to be held responsible. 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."

"Things need to change with all organisations involved. Even I can see that."

Whilst a family member of the girl said: "[Child Q] is traumatised and is now a shell of the bubbly child she was before this incident

"It is now being circulated in her school that she is the big-time drugs seller."

The girl is now suing the Met Police and her school over the incident. 

She is hoping to "hold both institutions to account including through cast iron commitments to ensure this never happens again to any other child", her lawyers said in a statement.

Hackney Council's Children's Services have asked for a report in six to nine months on progress made regarding the review's eight findings and 14 recommendations.

These include calls for the Department for Education to make more explicit reference to safeguarding in its guidance on searching, screening and confiscation, and for police guidance on strip-searching children to clearly outline the need for a focus on safeguarding.