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

25 March 2022, 07:04 | Updated: 25 March 2022, 08:25

The Met carried out 5,200 searches of children
The Met carried out 5,200 searches of children. Picture: Alamy/LBC
Rachael Venables

By Rachael Venables

Thousands of strip searches have been carried out by police on children in London in recent years, most of them from ethnic backgrounds, it has emerged in the wake of the Child Q scandal.

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Of the 5,279 children searched in the past three years, 3,939 (75%) were from ethnically diverse backgrounds. A total of 16 of them were aged between 10 and 12 years old.

This data only covers children who were strip searched after an arrest, including 2,000 for drug offences, meaning the real number of youths strip searched in London will be even higher.

The figures wouldn't include the case of Child Q, for instance, as she was never arrested.

The Met's already under pressure over its use of the tactic, after a damning report found racism was a factor in a black 15-year-old girl, "Child Q", being strip searched while on her period at her school in Hackney, without an appropriate adult in the room.

For context, recent ONS data found that nearly 60% of people in the capital are white, suggesting people who are from an ethnically diverse background are far more likely to be strip searched.

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Shadow policing minister Sarah Jones told LBC the data suggests strip search is being used too often.

When a child is involved, she says it should only be used in "exceptional" circumstances and when police genuinely believe a life is in danger.

She is also concerned at the way children are clearly far more likely to be subjected to a strip search if they are black.

"The issue of disproportionality is wrong, on a basic human rights equality front," she said.

"It also makes for ineffective policing because you’re searching people not based on any good evidence."

Temi Mwale, who runs the 4Front Youth Empowerment Organisation in Colindale, North London, said more than 60% of her membership have been strip searched more than once, and believes the practice should be banned on children.

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"What is apparent is the sheer significant impact that it has on children's mental health. It is a deeply traumatising, degrading, humiliating experience that nobody should have to endure, let alone children," she said.

Temi said the practice was nothing more than state-sanctioned child abuse, that disproportionately affects black children.

"Black children are not given the same chance of childhood, protection, care and safety. Instead black children are only offered criminalisation, violence and harm," she said.

She also said she has heard of plenty of cases like Child Q, where the rules weren't followed properly.

"Jordan" is a 19-year-old who says 4Front has changed his life. He's been strip searched four times. Once, while he was just 17, he didn't have an appropriate adult in the room with him.

He says he was caught with a small bag of cannabis on him ("fair play, they were doing their job") before being arrested, and taken to the "strip search room" in the local police station.

During the search, in which he was told to remove all his clothes, a custody sergeant walked in and checked his age again. When he said he was 17 they realised they had to stop.

The whole thing clearly had a horrifying effect on him. He said: "They strip searched me, as a 17-year-old with no appropriate adult present.

"I felt extremely uncomfortable - very degraded. I felt like dirt to be honest, like they were just stepping all over me.

"It was a very nasty experience as a child having to show your genitalia to two grown men who you don't know."

Michael is another man who was strip searched as a child. He’s now 19, and says he's been strip searched "more than 20" times. "It's a part of life, like brushing your teeth," he said.

The first time it happened, he was 16, and it made him feel "violated, disgusted".

He believes strip searches should be banned on children, and says the over-use of the practice is only harming relations between the police and communities in London.

In response, a spokesperson from the Met Police said: "We work closely with communities in London and understand that stop and search can have a significant and lasting impact on someone, especially an MTIP (More Thorough Search where Intimate Parts are exposed) and strip searches in custody.

"Every search must be lawful, proportionate and necessary and carried out with respect, dignity and empathy.

"While some may question whether any child should be subject to a MTIP or strip search, there are occasions when it is very necessary to prevent harm to children who may be exploited by gangs, County Lines and drug dealers.

"Used appropriately, stop and search powers save lives and are an important tactic to keep Londoners safe, helping us identify criminality and take drugs and dangerous weapons off the streets.

"Officers are highly trained around the use of stop and search. Part of the training is around unbiased decision making, unconscious bias and the impact of the use of these powers on communities. Community Monitoring Groups righty continue to scrutinise many aspects of the Met’s approach to stop and search.

"The Met's initial training courses include lived experience sessions with members of the community. Officers then progress to street duties courses on command units across London where they have a session with a member of their local community to understand the local area and their lived experience.

"There is disparity in the overall use of stop and search in relation to gender, age and race.

"Sadly different crimes tend to affect different groups more than others and it remains a tragic truth that knife crime and street violence in London disproportionately affects boys and young men, particularly of African-Caribbean heritage, both in terms of being victims and perpetrators.

"That said we do not underestimate the impact that the use of stop and search has on some individuals and that it continues to cause significant concern within some communities."