The Metropolitan police has been urged by a council boss to accept that institutional racism is a problem in the force after the treatment of Child Q, a 15-year-old black girl who was strip-searched by officers at her school in London.
Hackney council has challenged the Met to “again, accept that institutional racism – as defined in the Stephen Lawrence report – is a consistent factor in the relationship between the police and the Black and Global Majority communities, and in their wider experiences”. They said this might prevent a similar incident happening again and restore trust and confidence.
The girl was strip-searched at her east London school by two female officers in Hackney in December 2020, after being wrongly suspected of carrying drugs.
Protests were held in London last month after a report by the City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, which found that Child Q – who was having her period at the time – was made to remove her clothing, underwear and a sanitary pad, spread her buttocks and cough.
The review concluded that racism was “likely” to have been a factor, Child Q should never have been strip-searched and there was an absence of a safeguarding-first approach.
In a letter to the Met, Hackney council’s chief executive, Mark Carroll, has proposed a safeguarding-led briefing event for parents, carers and guardians, who may have concerns about their children’s safety and wellbeing in schools.
Carroll has also recommended that the force bring community partners together in workshops to appraise the police response, help shape a strategic plan, and identify the ways in which they can continue to be involved in the strategy.
Carroll wrote: “As you recognise, Child Q should have been treated with dignity and respect. She should have been treated as the child she is: her rights as a child, safeguarded; and her position as a child protected by the adults around her that day.
“It is clear that she was wholly failed, and together we must all make sure that this is never allowed to happen again. Hackney council accepts the review panel’s finding that this appalling and humiliating experience was ‘likely influenced’ by racism.
“We welcome your recognition of the pain and anger that the experience of Child Q has caused in our communities, and that it has had a direct impact on their trust and confidence in the Metropolitan police. The family of Child Q are clear that they too want this to be a moment of real change.”
Child Q’s mother and aunt have said the strip search has traumatised her. Two of the police officers involved have been removed from frontline duty.
A recent Freedom of Information request to the Met revealed that the force conducted about 9,000 strip searches on children in the past five years. In Hackney, 60% of the children strip-searched last year were black.
Carroll’s letter was in response to the Met’s reply the previous day to the council’s initial letter about the Child Q incident.
Laurence Taylor, deputy assistant commissioner of frontline policing, wrote: “I want to start by clearly stating that the MPS acknowledges that events in the history of policing London have led to a breakdown in trust and confidence with some communities.
“It is of the upmost importance that we address this, but recognise it is not easy. We have clearly stated our intention to rebuild trust and confidence and want to work with our communities and partners to help us do this and become a truly anti-racist organisation.”
He added: “We are in full agreement with the review that this incident should never have happened. It is more than regrettable and as you noted we have apologised to the child concerned, her family and the wider community.”
Taylor also announced a pilot scheme across Hackney and Tower Hamlets for searches.
In addition to the current requirement of a conversation with a supervisor and the presence of an appropriate adult, officers will now require the authority of a police inspector before a search takes place.
Officers will also require a Merlin report – a Met police database of children they come into contact with – to be submitted for all such searches.