Policing minister Kit Malthouse has been – rightly – slammed for repeatedly saying the Government must wait for the outcome of a police watchdog report into the traumatic strip search of a black schoolgirl.
In December 2020, police – two male, two female – were called by teachers at a secondary school in Hackney, who believed a girl was carrying drugs because they could smell cannabis.
She was subjected to what seems clearly a deliberately humiliating strip-search. She was made to strip naked, to spread her legs, to use her hands to spread her buttock cheeks and then to cough.
She was menstruating. According to family members, the police insisted that she take off the bloody pad and would not let her go to the toilet to clean up. Then they made her reuse the same pad.
No drugs were found, yet the rumour spread around the school that this perfectly innocent girl was a drug dealer.
The experience left the girl traumatised, in therapy and self-harming.
Answering an urgent question in Parliament, Malthouse condemned the “distressing” incident, saying she “could have been any one of our relatives”.
But he insisted that the government had to wait for a report into the incident, on which the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has already been working for 10 months.
He said the police officers involved had a right to “due process”, which is all well and good – but justice delayed is justice denied, and doesn’t Child Q have a right to justice?
And despite a safeguarding review into the matter producing a series of recommendations for the Government and police to act upon, Malthouse insisted there was doubt whether the police have a specific problem or a systemic problem relating to their policies and practices.
“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.”
This Writer wonders whether Malthouse is simply hoping the IOPC will find a way to exonerate the officers involved (one of whom, it seems, was male – in a gross violation of police rules).
And he did not respond to a call to publish data on the number of times children are strip-searched. Why not?
Other MPs saw matters differently – not that he should not comment until the inquiry had been completed but that he should life a finger or two to bring the matter to that conclusion:
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?”
It seems clear that Malthouse’s fellow Tories felt no need to enact justice for Child Q. Only one Conservative MP turned up to the discussion – Jackie Doyle-Price – and her contribution was to ask what the minister would do to ensure the Metropolitan Police changes its practices.
Underlying this lack of activity there must be the same question that underlies the reasons for the humiliation and trauma of the strip-search of a menstruating teenage girl.
Is it because she is black?
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