No strip search without presence of appropriate adult: Police watchdog issues guidelines over children strip searches
“We have been concerned about what we have seen in the cases referred to us involving complaints about strip searches of children,” said IOPC director general Michael Lockwood. Two Metropolitan Police patrol members at Oxford Street, in central London. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)
Eastern Eye Staff
THE Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has issued recommendations to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) over safeguarding issues highlighted by referrals concerning the strip searching of children.
Eight new referrals concerning strip searches of this nature were received from the MPS in June after the IOPC made further inquiries. Three were made last month. It has now decided to independently investigate two of them, a press release from IOPC said on Monday (1).
The IOPC has recommended the MPS should take immediate steps to ensure that any strip searches of children are being carried out in line with relevant legislation, national guidance and local policy.
The steps recommended are designed to ensure:
- the best interests and safeguarding needs of the child are a primary consideration when deciding whether to conduct a strip search
- the strip search of a child is conducted in the presence of an appropriate adult. Such searches should only be conducted without an appropriate adult in limited circumstances where a valid exception exists
- the strip search of a child is conducted in such a way which, as far as possible, maintains their dignity and takes into account their health, hygiene and welfare needs.
IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said, “We have been concerned about what we have seen in the cases referred to us involving complaints about strip searches of children, and we are acting now by making recommendations stressing that existing best practice and policies should be followed by the MPS at all times.
“Given the apparent delay in some of these cases being referred to us, we will now work with the MPS to review a sample of complaints that have not been referred to us, to establish whether the process is working as it should.
“I have also written to the National Police Chief’s Council to highlight these concerns and our recommendation, so these can be shared with other forces. I have proposed a meeting between ourselves and relevant policing leads to discuss how we can work together to ensure this important learning is shared and seek assurance that relevant policies are being applied in other forces.
“By coming together in this way, I hope we can address increasing concerns about the use of strip search powers in England and Wales, in order to provide assurance that they are only being used when absolutely essential.”
The IOPC is now independently investigating two further complaints after receiving 11 voluntary referrals from the MPS relating to separate incidents between December 2019 and May 2022. They all involved children aged 14 to 17 who were strip-searched by officers in custody, or more intimate searches were carried out outside custody. It decided that the six of the referrals were suitable for local investigation by the force and the remaining three are still being assessed to determine what further action may be required from the IOPC.
Both the two new investigations involve 16-year-old boys, who the IOPC believe were strip searched in custody with no appropriate adult present after being detained. The strip searches took place at Ilford police station in January 2020, and at the Bethnal Green police station in October the same year.
It brings the total number of such investigations the IOPC is carrying out to five; the other three involve strip searches by MPS officers of a 15-year-old girl, known as Child Q, at a school in December 2020; another 15-year-old girl in a cell that same month; and another child in a separate incident earlier this year.
As part of these ongoing investigations, the IOPC will review whether existing legislation, guidance and policies remain appropriate, and that may lead to it issuing learning designed to bring about improvements.
Click here and here to see letters from Lockwood to the MPS and NPCC, respectively.