Child Q: Minister slammed for ‘lack of urgency’ over police strip-search of Black girl

Kit Malthouse employing ‘wait and see attitude’, Labour MP claims

The policing minister appeared before a joint meeting of Holyrood committees on Tuesday (Aaron Chown/PA)
The policing minister appeared before a joint meeting of Holyrood committees on Tuesday (Aaron Chown/PA)

A minister has been criticised for a “distinct lack of urgency” after repeatedly saying the Government must wait for the outcome of a police watchdog report into the strip search of a Black schoolgirl.

Kit Malthouse condemned the “distressing” incident involving Child Q, saying she “could have been any one of our relatives”.

However, Mr Malthouse insisted the Government waits for a report into the incident by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) which will provide the “full picture” before taking any further action.

In response to an Urgent Question in the Commons by Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, the policing and crime minister told MPs that the officers involved in the strip search “have a right to due process”.

He also suggested Child Q’s strip search left doubt as to whether the police has a specific problem or a systemic problem relating to its policies and practices. This is despite a safeguarding review into the matter producing a series of recommendations for the Government and police to act upon.

“It is the role of the independent police watchdog - the Independent Office for Police Conduct - to investigate serious matters involving the police and the IOPC has said it has been investigating the actions of the Metropolitan police in this particular case,” he said.

“We must let the IOPC conclude its work we would, of course, expect any findings to be acted upon swiftly but it’s vital that we don’t prejudge the IOPC’s investigations or prejudice due process - so it would be wrong for me to make any comment on the case in question at this time.”

Labour MP for Eltham, Clive Efford, criticised Mr Malthouse for having a “wait and see attitude”, and said: “I feel like we’ve woken the minister from an afternoon nap to come in and make this statement”.

He added: “There’s a complete lack of urgency in his approach. It is quite clear that there are areas now where the Government can act; why isn’t the minister coming to this house to explain to us just exactly what he’s going to do, rather than this wait and see attitude.”

Child Q was strip searched by female Metropolitan Police officers at her school in 2020 without another adult present and in the knowledge that she was menstruating, a review conducted by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP) concluded last week.

The 15-year-old had been wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis. Following the “traumatic” search, 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.

The IOPC launched its investigation following a complaint in May 2021, and said it has completed its inquiries and is finalising its report.

The case has sparked outrage from politicians and the public, with London mayor Sadiq Khan sharing his “dismay and disgust”, and equalities minister Kemi Badenoch calling it an “appalling incident”.

Sarah Jones, shadow policing minister, said: “I think everyone will agree that this strip search shouldn’t have happened”.

“But what is so shocking that the existing guidance and training was so insufficient, so broad perhaps, so vague, that it didn’t prevent the strip search of a child who supposedly smelt of cannabis from happening in this way,” she added, calling upon the minister to work on and issue new guidance.

Over 9,000 children have been strip-searched in London over the past five years and Black people are three times more likely to be subjected to these “intrusive powers”.

Labour MP Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) said “strip searching of children is not a one-off” and called on the minister to publish data on the numbers of strip searches that have happened “by borough command unit and by ethnicity”.

Mr Malthouse did not address the call to publish data.

Only one Conservative MP turned up to the discussion, Jackie Doyle-Price MP, who asked what action the minister will take to ensure there’s change in Metropolitan Police.

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