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4 Years post Child Q – what effect has it had on child centred policing?

Four years following the inappropriate strip searching of Child Q and two years since the investigation, how have public authorities responded?

It has been two years since the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has confirmed that four Met officers have been served with gross misconduct notices after the inappropriate strip searching of Child Q. Child Q was a 15-year-old black school girl who was called out of her exam and subjected to a strip search during school hours. Claiming that the child was suspected to be in possession of cannabis, she was asked to strip down and show her menstrual pad to police officers while on school premises in Hackney. Breaching policing guidelines, her parents were not contacted and there was not an appropriate adult present. The result of the strip search was entirely fruitless, leaving the child traumatised from the humiliation, disproportionality, adultification, and the apparent racial profiling underpinning her unfair treatment.

Four years after the incident and two years since the investigation has come to public light, how have public authorities responded and what changes have there been to child centred policing, if any?

The government’s initial reaction was to say anything that might appease those who were rightfully enraged by the mistreatment, but not actually commit to calling into question the credibility of the police force. A case in point is the City and Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP), consisting of the Acting Commissioner of the City of London Police at the time, who only went as far to say that racism was ‘likely’ to have been a factor. They also released a public practice review on the effect the incident had on Child Q herself. There are a number of revealing findings from their investigation. First and foremost, it reported that the decision to strip search Child Q was ‘insufficiently attuned to her best interests or right to privacy’, which she is entitled to under Article 8 ECHR. Secondly, there should have been greater emphasis on the requirement to contact and have present an appropriate adult, as outlined under the revised Code C of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Such findings bolster growing criticism of the police force as having a long history of discriminatory racial targeting of minorities, including subjecting children to disproportionate police search powers by treating them as adults (hence the term adultification). Yet, the public practice review’s ‘discoveries’ can leave us questioning what the report did indeed need to find as the conclusion they ultimately drew seems to be painfully obvious. A simple glance at the recorded data in the period leading up to the incident of Child Q shows that of all boys who were strip searched, 58% were black, and in the period of 2018 to 2020 leading up to the incident, the strip searching of children was almost at a rate of one child a day. On top of this, an appropriate adult was not present for almost a quarter of all occasions where strip searching was conducted, and these data sets only include cases that were actually recorded. Such simple data analysis dilutes the strength of the CHSCP’s report findings. Can it really be said that any meaningful action was truly taken to bring about change when the conclusion that is arrived at in the report has been so blindingly apparent in the years leading up to the incident?

In the name of giving a generous good faith reading and benefit of the doubt to the bodies overseeing the case of Child Q, let’s look beyond the report. Certainly, it would be unfair to evaluate the response of public authorities based solely on report findings. A report after all is not a true sign of change. Change, in this context, would take the form of concrete improvements in police practice of strip searching. So what has been done beyond the report?

In the years that followed, public statements from the bodies involved underwhelmingly amounted to mere placating exercises in providing soundbites intending to soothe public outrage about the mistreatment of children in strip search cases. The Met police has proclaimed to advise their officers to do things such as ‘treat children as children’, and to recognise that children under 18 are ‘vulnerable victims of exploitation’. The London mayor Sadiq Khan has also claimed that child strip-searches should only be used in ‘very exceptional circumstances’.

Tragically, though not surprisingly, even more cases have since come to light. A year after the Child Q incident, police were readily conducting strip searches on children as young as eight (Olulode, 2023). New data also revealed that in the months after Child Q came into the public eye, thousands more children were subjected to ‘intrusive searches’. In 2024, The Guardian reports that more than sixty children a week are being strip-searched by the police, with those who are Black, Asian or mixed race disproportionately targeted. Despite policing guidelines stipulating that strip searching powers should only be used under exceptional circumstances, and the CHSCP’s claim that the strip searching of children is only ‘likely’ to be racially motivated, a colossal 47.7% of strip searches of children in London in 2024 were of black children, who only make up 16.9% of London’s child population (Runnymede, 2024).

It would seem that the investigations, reports and public statements which are piling up have done little to address the core issues of police powers to strip search. The example of Hackney Council exemplifies the bigger picture: while claiming that their ‘commitment to flushing out racism in Hackney has not dimmed’. How can we even pretend to give credit to the police for their attempts to police their own strip search powers when the Home Office doesn’t even require the police to provide data on strip searching on an obligatory basis?

It would seem that the case of Child Q was only enough to spark a mere recognition by the police that she … did indeed, suffer wrongdoing. Regulatory bodies were only willing to go as far as to concede that there is a ‘likely’ issue that is waiting to be uncovered by yet another report. Far from provoking substantive reform, we have been left with empty rhetoric and a dismal failure to bring forth a police service which actually serves all members of society.

By Kelly Chan, StopWatch volunteer

All blogposts are published with the permission of the author. The views expressed are solely the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of StopWatch UK.

About the author

Kelly Chan.

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