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Children as young as eight strip-searched by police as report shows ‘evidence of deeply concerning practice’

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Children as young as eight are being strip-searched by police officers, according to a report which detailed almost 3,000 searches of minors in England and Wales over four years.

The report also found “ethnic disproportionality”, with black children six times more likely to be strip-searched compared to the national population; white children were half as likely to be searched.

Children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, demanded the report which showed 2,847 strip-searches of youngsters between eight and 17 took place between 2018 and mid-2022 across England and Wales.

The research showed 52% of strip-searches took place without an appropriate adult present, which is required by law except in situations of “urgency”.

One per cent of the searches occurred “within public view”, with some taking place in police vehicles and schools, a few even in takeaways and amusement parks. However, location was not recorded in 45% of cases – criticised as “poor quality of record-keeping” by Dame Rachel.

The research follows the “traumatic” strip-search of Child Q, a black schoolgirl on her period wrongly suspected by police of carrying cannabis.

The 15-year-old was searched in the school’s medical room by two female officers without teachers present in 2020.

The ordeal, which Scotland Yard said “should never have happened”, left the girl scarred according to family members, who believe the search was racially motivated.

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Police forces ordered to reveal number of ‘intrusive and traumatic’ child strip-searches after Child Q scandal

The incident prompted Dame Rachel to request the report, which showed more than 600 children underwent “intrusive and traumatising” searches over a two-year period, with black boys disproportionately targeted.

Dame Rachel condemned the findings as “utterly unacceptable” and generally that strip-searching children was an “intrusive and potentially traumatic power” which must be subject to “robust safeguards”.

She recommended 17 reforms to the Home Office regarding child strip-searching policy, which include:

  • “Urgency” strip-searches to be banished with constant supervision from an appropriate adult instead. She said only in “the most exceptional situations where there is serious risk to the child’s life or welfare” where this should not be the case.
  • Schools excluded as an appropriate strip-search location, with police stations, medical facilities or at the child’s home address as alternatives.
  • Officers reporting annually on searches, including records of ethnicity, if an appropriate adult was present, the location and if a safeguarding referral was made.

A spokesperson said the Home Office takes safeguarding children extremely seriously.

“Strip-search is one of the most intrusive powers available to the police,” the spokesperson said. “No one should be subject to strip-search on the basis of race or ethnicity and safeguards exist to prevent this.”

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