Research published by the Children’s Commissioner for England has revealed that between 2018 and 2020, officers in the Metropolitan Police service conducted intrusive searches on 650 young people aged between ten and 17, with a disproportionate amount being black boys.
The research was commissioned following the case of Child Q—a 15-year-old black girl who was strip-searched at her school in east London without the presence of an appropriate adult after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis.
Children’s commissioner Rachel De Souza told Sky News that the incident had been falsely described as a “one-off.”
“In a strip-search, your most intimate parts are searched. For any child, that’s going to be traumatic and concerning,” she explained. Under UK law, it is a requirement that an appropriate adult is present during these kinds of searches, except in urgent circumstances.
According to the report published by the Children’s Commissioner for England, out of the 650 children that were searched over the three year period, 19 in every 20 were boys, and 58 per cent were described as black by the attending officer.
Katrina Ffrench, the founder and director of Unjust UK, a non-profit organisation that seeks to address discrimination in the criminal justice system in the the country, said she was “incredibly horrified” by the figures brought to light in the report.
“Unfortunately, young black children are not afforded innocence and the same rights as their white peers,” she told Sky News. In 2018, over a third of those strip-searched without an appropriate adult present were black boys, the report goes on to claim.
The Metropolitan Police service has issued a statement explaining that things are “progressing at pace” in order to treat children who are subject to these kinds of intrusive and delicate searches with the respect and dignity they deserve.
Additionally, it has been reported that new policies are being put in place to regulate when these searches occur, requiring an inspector to give their consent before one takes place. “We have ensured our officers and staff have a refreshed understanding of the policy for conducting a ‘further search’, particularly around the requirement for an appropriate adult to be present,” the statement added. “We have also given officers advice around dealing with schools, ensuring that children are treated as children and considering safeguarding for those under 18.”
According to solicitor Kevin Donohuge, however, “An apology is not enough. Compensation is not enough.” Donohuge has represented children across the country who have experienced similar traumatic events.
“The fallout for these children is very significant,” he told Sky News. “The common features and expressions given to me in handling these cases are one of personal intrusion. There is a violation by police officers which is very severely felt and one of personal integrity and their bodily autonomy which has been invaded and it is an event which cannot be undone.”
As stated in the report, over half of child strip-searches carried out to date has resulted in no further action being taken. De Souza was also very concerned by “holes in data” provided by the Met Police. “For about one in five of the strip-searches, they can’t even tell me where they took place, so the data collection needs to be better,” the expert added.
A harrowing report by BBC Northern Ireland (NI) has brought to light the details of allegations that two police officers from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) had manipulated a suicide victim’s body, photographing them and later sharing the images and videos online. Though the incident itself is said to have occurred in 2017, it has only now found itself in the spotlight with full disclosure.
The family of the victim in question spoke to BBC NI Spotlight on the horrific discovery of their loved one’s abuse by the two officers who were called to the scene when the body was found in 2017. The father of the deceased male told the news outlet that he was first informed of the allegations 18 months after the death of his son—and was told to keep quiet on the details.
“They informed me that two police officers had been questioned regarding my son and photographs that might have been taken of my son,” he told BBC NI Spotlight. The family were told that “it was a very serious affair and we weren’t to discuss it.” Details, like the fact that the victim’s genitals had been exposed in the photographs, were “drip-fed” to the family, as per the BBC’s report.
The sister of the deceased told the publication that the two police officers had also reportedly moved her brother’s body around the room (in which he was found) into various positions and poses for pictures and videos. The family were also informed that additional edits/stickers were added to the imagery such as “an exclamation bubble coming out of my brother’s mouth making fun of the way that he was.”
The Photoshopped speech bubbles were part of the images that were shared on social media, among the pictures of his exposed genitalia, and involved what the sister believed was the word “taig”—a derogatory term for Catholics. She told BBC NI Spotlight that she could not fathom how or why anyone would be as heartless to mock a victim of suicide.
Unsurprisingly, the father stated that he is “physically sick to this day” over the accusations against the officers—haunted by the thought that these actions were happening while he was in the house. “Those police officers were in the house while I was there—asked me to leave the room—and I done everything they asked me to at the time,” he continued. “And all that keeps coming back to me is why did I leave the room, because that must have been when they done it, when they took the photographs.”
This particular case surfaced as part of a “much broader and more complex case encompassing investigations into 11 separate and related incidents” of police misconduct “spanning several years,” said NI’s Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson. One of the officers being questioned has been suspended during the length of the investigation on full pay, as per BBC NI Spotlight. The family’s lawyer, Pádraig Ó Muirigh, has also queried this decision.
In an inquiry that has lasted an “unacceptable” five years, “I think the family and the wider public has a right to know why someone has been suspended so long on full pay,” Ó Muirigh added. This case seems just the latest in a long line of examples of serious and gross misconduct by police officers across the UK. Not only does the case of Sarah Everard obviously come to mind but the family’s lawyer cited the very similar incident of murdered sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in June 2021—on discovery of their bodies, Met Police took images of the women and shared them on WhatsApp groups.
One such message of the sisters read: “Unfortunately I’m sat next to two dead birds with stab wounds.” The constables in question have each been jailed for 33 months. The suicide victim’s sister has since told the BBC that following the handling of her brother’s case, she had lost faith in the PSNI going forward. “I couldn’t even lift the phone and dial 999 now if I was in an emergency. I wouldn’t want them near me or my family because they can’t be trusted.”