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Met strip-search five children every week without first arresting them, LBC reveals

25 July 2022, 08:23 | Updated: 25 July 2022, 09:20

The Met Police strip-searches an average of five children a week, LBC can reveal
The Met Police strip-searches an average of five children a week, LBC can reveal. Picture: Alamy
Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

Five children are being strip searched by Met Police officers every week without even being arrested first.

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Data obtained by LBC shows 799 children aged between 10 and 17 were strip-searched whilst not in custody, from 2019 to 2021.

The vast majority were for suspected drugs offences, and in just under half of the cases there was no outcome or arrest.

The figures also expose huge racial disparities; more than half of the children strip-searched were black (436), three-quarters of them were from ethnically diverse backgrounds (607), while only one in five (179) were white.

Scotland Yard sparked national outrage after news emerged earlier this year of a 15-year-old black school girl from Hackney, known as Child Q, being strip-searched, without having been first arrested for any crime.

The searches of 10 other children have also been referred to the police watchdog to investigate.

Labour MP for Battersea, Marsha de Cordova, believes no child should be subject to a strip search if they haven't first been arrested.

Read more: Revealed: Most children strip-searched by Met come from ethnic backgrounds

"Surely, no child should be strip searched without them even being arrested," she said.

"That's what happened to Child Q, that's what's happening to countless other children, and it's wrong."

Ali Hassan Ali is a former officer, he says the practise is hugely damaging to children; from their mental health to their trust in authority.

He's spoken to ten families whose child was strip searched. In six cases they also were not arrested first.

Read more: Watchdog to investigate 7 more instances of Met strip searching children as young as 14

"All the families tell me the child spends more time in their bedroom now, doesn't do well in school anymore, doesn't socialise like they used to," he said.

"They'll see a police car, and they get scared.

"It's like it's left a scar in their hearts and minds."

Read more: Child Q family says London 'deserves better' as Met placed into special measures

Both he, and Marsha De Cordova are outraged by the racial disparity in these new figures.

Both speak about the 'adultification' of black children, particularly boys, where they are perceived to be older than they actually are.

Marsha, who believes the Met still to be institutionally racist, has been calling on the Home Office to annually publish strip search data from all forces as a matter of transparency.

"Unless there is transparency in producing and publishing this data, it is going to be upon MPs and journalists to put in FOIs," she said.

"That cannot be right. We need transparency."

London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who has blasted the Met in the past for cultural problems with racism, misogyny and homophobia, says he's previously raised the issue with the force.

"One of the most concerning things for me is the number of strip searches without arrest," he said.

"The Police Service are now ensuring that every single strip search of a child goes through proper checks to make sure a senior officer looks at the case and authorises it before it takes place."

The Metropolitan Police said it recognises the impact such searches can have on children, and they are working hard to ensure officers have a refreshed understanding of the policy.

A spokesman said: "The Metropolitan Police is progressing at pace work to ensure children subject to intrusive searches are dealt with appropriately and respectfully. We recognise the significant impact such searches can have. We have already made changes and continue to work hard to balance the policing need for this type of search with the considerable impact it can have on young people.

"We have ensured our officers and staff have a refreshed understanding of the policy for conducting a ‘further search’, particularly around the requirement for an appropriate adult to be present.

"We have also given officers advice around dealing with schools, ensuring that children are treated as children and considering safeguarding for those under 18.

"More widely we have reviewed the policy for ‘further searches’ for those aged under 18. This is to assure ourselves the policy is appropriate and also that it recognises the fact a child in these circumstances may well be a vulnerable victim of exploitation by others involved in gangs, County Lines and drug dealing. 

"To ensure we have very clear control over this type of search, we have introduced new measures across the Met.

"As well as requiring a discussion with their supervisor before seeking authority for a more thorough search and the presence of an appropriate adult, an inspector from a local command unit must now give authority before the search takes place to ensure appropriate oversight.

"A Merlin report must also be submitted, to ensure safeguarding the child is the priority. The Merlin system contains information about a child coming to police attention."