Dame Rachel de Souza has written to all forces requesting information on strip-searches of children, after discovering that 650 10 to 17-year-olds underwent “intrusive and traumatising” strip-searches by the Metropolitan Police over two years.
She requested data from the force in the wake of the Child Q scandal, where a 15-year-old schoolgirl was strip-searched while on her period after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis at school.
The figures showed that, in almost a quarter (23%) of cases, strip-searches took place without an “appropriate adult” confirmed to have been present. They also showed that black boys were disproportionately searched.
Dame Rachel is seeking further information from between 2018 and July 2022 from other forces “to reassure myself that these issues are not more widespread”.
She said: “I firmly believe that a police power that is as intrusive and traumatic for children as a strip-search must be treated with the utmost care and responsibility. It must also be accompanied by a robust and transparent system of scrutiny to protect and safeguard vulnerable children.
“To reassure myself that these issues are not more widespread, I am using my unique statutory powers to ask all police chief officers in England and Wales to collect further information on the conduct of this practice across the country. I will be publishing my analysis of this data in full early next year.”
Dame Rachel has met Sir Mark Rowley, the new Met Police Commissioner, and is said to be “working constructively” with him.
The case of Child Q drew outrage when it first came to light in March this year.
The teenager was strip-searched by female Met Police officers in 2020 without another adult present and in the knowledge that she was menstruating, a safeguarding report found.
The review, by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP), concluded the strip-search should never have happened, was unjustified and racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”.
Four Met Police officers are being investigated for gross misconduct by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in connection with the incident.
Scotland Yard has apologised and said it “should never have happened”.
A Met Police spokesperson said: “Ensuring the safeguarding of every child who is subject to a search is an absolute priority. We got it wrong with Child Q and we are making significant efforts to ensure our approach puts the child at the heart of decision making.
“We have been listening to our communities and partners and have made changes as we balance the policing need for this type of search with the considerable impact it can have on young people.
“We will be happy to cooperate fully with the Children’s Commissioner and to share the progress we are making in this area.”