Met Police admits child strip-searching powers ‘misused’

Met now says it is “much more careful” about using strip-search powers on children only when ”necessary”, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

Fresh concerns have been raised about the strip searching of children by the Metropolitan Police after the force revealed it had mistakenly misreported the scale of the tactic’s use.

Met Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley has said officers have “overused” and “misused” the power in the past, but are now focused on being “much more careful about only using it when it’s necessary”.

The issue has been repeatedly raised by Green Party London Assembly member Caroline Russell, who has called for more transparency on the number of searches, where they are being carried out, and whether an appropriate adult is present.

In a written question lodged with City Hall in July 2022, Caroline asked for location data in relation to what the Met had said was a total of 99 strip searches of children carried out in 2021. In an answer issued on Monday, Caroline was told that the Met “has established” that the figure of 99 searches was “incorrect”, which they said was due to a “data transmission error”.

They clarified that the figure was in fact 271, including two searches logged in error but still captured in the data. Of that number, 57% of searches were carried out at police stations, 21% at home addresses, and 21% at “other” locations.

Commenting in response, Caroline said: “Almost a year after I asked for Met data on the strip searching of children, the Met cannot even provide the location of a fifth of those that took place.

“This data from 2021 had not been recorded properly, leading to almost a year of delay in answering my question on locations of strip searches and the correction of a previous answer, which now shows three times more children were being strip searched by police.

She added: “Each strip search means another child traumatised by an interaction with the Met.

“The Met must stop the use of this invasive policing tactic to protect young people from the deep distress of intimate searches and guarantee proper transparency about its deployment in the meantime.”

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Speaking at a City Hall meeting on Monday, Kenny Bowie – a director at the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime – said the Met’s data systems needed improvement and that he was “pretty horrified” by the error mentioned in response to Caroline’s question.

The Met publishes ‘dashboards’ on its website relating to the number of strip searches carried out, both as part of stop and search, and for those in custody. They show that the use of the power in both situations, among both children and adults, was significantly reduced in 2022.

Among children, the reduction in strip searches conducted as part of stop and search between 2021 and 2022 was 45%.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has previously said there is still a place for the strip searching of children in “very exceptional circumstances”.

The issue was recently scrutinised by Dame Rachel de Souza, the Children’s Commissioner for England, who found that across the country, there were “systemic problems with transparency, scrutiny and non-compliance with guidelines when children were being strip searched under stop and search powers”.

The Met Police has previously said it has made policy changes to how strip searches are conducted under stop and search.

A spokesperson for the force said in March: “These [policy changes] include requiring the authorisation of an inspector, improved record-keeping and requiring safeguarding referrals for all strip searches under stop and search involving children.

“We have also taken action on awareness-raising and training in respect of adultification bias.

“We have been making significant efforts to ensure the use of this tactic is absolutely appropriate in all circumstances and that our approach puts the child at the heart of decision making, with safeguarding of that child the absolute priority.

“This has resulted in a considerable reduction in the number of searches being carried out.

“We absolutely recognise the impact that searches of this nature have on children, however we are very aware that children can be exploited and become involved in violent crime both as perpetrators and victims.

“It is for this reason that we are seeking to balance the necessity for such searches against the impact it will have on each child.”

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