Let’s set the scene:
One investigation by the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership has happened and its report has formed the basis of news coverage. Another, by the Independent Office of Police Conduct, was started in May and is in the process of being finalised. The three officers directly involved – one of whom, it appears, was male – remain on full duties. Why?
This incident occurred in December 2020, when police – two male, two female – were called by teachers at a secondary school in Hackney, who believed she was carrying drugs because they could smell cannabis.
She was then subjected to what seems clearly a deliberately humiliating strip-search. Labour MP Diane Abbott puts it straight:
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. Her mother told the local child safeguarding review that the experience had left her daughter traumatised. Her aunt added: “I see the change from a happy-go-lucky girl to a timid recluse that hardly speaks to me.” She said the girl was now in therapy and that she self-harms.
The search took place without the presence of an appropriate adult – a person to safeguard the interests, rights, entitlements and welfare of children who are suspected of a criminal offence, by ensuring that they are treated in a fair and just manner and are able to participate effectively. Teachers were outside the room and parents of the girl, known as Child Q, knew nothing about the incident at the time.
The report by the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP) contains the following further findings:
- The police officers involved should have contacted superior officers for permission before carrying out the strip-search; there is no evidence that this happened.
- The person conducting the search must be of the same sex as the person being searched; if three police officers are under investigation but only two of those who arrived at the school were female, then we must question whether a male officer was involved.
- Searches involving exposure of intimate parts of the body must not be conducted as a routine extension of a less thorough search, simply because nothing is found in the course of the initial search; this one was.
- Searches involving exposure of intimate parts of the body may be carried out only at a nearby police station or other nearby location which is out of public view (but not a police vehicle); it appears this one was not.
- It is likely that school staff knew a further search of Child Q would be undertaken by the attending officers, but it is unlikely that the school was informed by the attending police officers of the intention to strip-search Child Q.
- It is likely that the importance of the Appropriate Adult role was insufficiently explained to either Child Q or the school staff present.
- There is no evidence that Child Q was resistant to the search undertaken by school staff or that there were any indicators in her behaviour that she might be hiding drugs on her person.
We now discover that the IOPC investigation began in May last year – 10 months ago – after a referral from the Met to check whether “legislation, policies and procedures” were followed. The three officers concerned were informed that they were being investigated for misconduct.
One wonders why it has taken 10 months – so far – and still failed to come to a conclusion.
In such situations – where discrimination has been alleged – statutory guidance calls for an investigation into gross misconduct, rather than just misconduct – and this has now been requested by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
There is so much wrong with this case that it is hard to know where to start.
Paramount must be the question of whether Child Q would have suffered anything like the same traumatic experience if she had been white.
The CHSCP report makes it clear that “racism (whether deliberate or not) was likely to have been an influencing factor in the decision to undertake a strip search”.
And this all came into public knowledge right before the government announced its response to an inquiry that found that there is no structural racism in the UK’s institutions.
The document, ironically (it seems) entitled Inclusive Britain, took a panning from the pundits on the BBC’s Politics Live yesterday. This is a seven-minute clip but it is well worth watching in full:
The report contains 70 recommendations but they are vague: the government will stop using the acronym “BAME” (Black And Minority Ethnic), it will create a few panels and do some research, have some pilot schemes and create some frameworks.
Stella Creasy’s comment from the top of this article was taken from this discussion. She made it clear that after what happened to Child Q, politicians “pontificating about whether or not we have an issue with structural racism doesn’t feel very real”.
The report, as Ms Creasy said, does not accord with what people in communities are saying.
Its measures do nothing to deal with racism but are simply “tinkering round so the government can feel like it is doing something”.
And apparently it even denies that slavery happened!
Given the humiliation and traumatisation of Child Q because of a smell, one cannot see this as anything but another slap in the face of people who suffer racism – and of those of us who want to end it.
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