We welcome recommendations from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in relation to strip searches of children.
Deputy Assistant Commissioner Laurence Taylor, leading this work in the Met, said: “Ensuring the safeguarding of every child who is subject to a search is an absolute priority. What happened to Child Q was a truly regrettable incident and we have apologised publicly to her, her family and the wider community. We understand how much concern this incident has caused, and how distressed Child Q has been.
“We have been listening to the views of our communities and partners, and have already 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 continue to liaise with the IOPC to discuss what more we need to do, particularly around reminding officers again of the very important requirement for an appropriate adult to be present during searches – a common theme in cases we have voluntarily referred to the IOPC, and one we must address.”
The changes we introduced in April include ensuring our officers and staff have a refreshed understanding of the policy for conducting a ‘more thorough search’ – this is a type of search that takes place outside custody and requires the removal of clothing and underwear.
We have also given officers advice around dealing with schools, ensuring that children are treated as children and the importance of safeguarding. To reduce the risk of adultification bias, we have begun to roll out training, starting with our frontline officers in the Central East Command Unit, which covers Hackney and Tower Hamlets.
More widely, we have made changes to the policy for more thorough searches of children to ensure it takes account of the safeguarding review for Child Q. It was also important the policy recognises a child subject to this type of search may well be a vulnerable victim of exploitation by others involved in gangs, County Lines and drug dealing. There is no suggestion Child Q was involved in these matters.
To ensure we have very clear control over this type of search, an Inspector from the local command unit must now give authority before the search takes place to ensure appropriate oversight. A Merlin report must also be submitted, to ensure safeguarding the child is the priority. The Merlin system contains information about a child coming to police attention. Every search is reviewed to ensure it has been carried out properly.
We recognised these measures also needed to apply to strip searches carried out in custody following arrest, and these were implemented at the beginning of this month. Again, we are considering what more we can do, with that key focus on safeguarding the child.
The Met has made a total of 14 voluntary referrals to the IOPC relating to strip searches of children.
Three of these relate to ‘Child Q’, ‘Child A’ and ‘Child X’ (also known as ‘Olivia’), which are all subject to independent IOPC investigations.
The remaining 11 referrals relate to separate incidents, between December 2019 and May 2022, where children aged 14 to 17 were strip searched by officers in custody or were subject to more intimate searches outside custody.
Two of those 11 referrals are now subject to independent IOPC investigations and we will offer every support. They both concern 16-year-old boys who were strip searched in custody without an appropriate adult being present. The searches took place at Ilford Police Station in January 2020 and at Bethnal Green Police Station in October 2020.
Six of the 11 referrals have been returned for the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) to investigate and we await a further decision by the IOPC on the other three referrals.
The IOPC has also raised concerns about the identification of strip search complaints and timeliness of referrals made to them – we recognised this as an issue and have taken measures to ensure any complaints received by local professional standards teams in our command units across London are escalated immediately to the DPS. We also welcome the IOPC’s proposed review of any further strip search complaints we have not referred to ensure we are meeting referral criteria and dealing appropriately.
We have been liaising with the National Police Chiefs’ Council and are advocating a wider conversation on this issue to ensure safeguarding of children is a priority for policing nationally.