Mayor pushes for ‘gross misconduct’ for officers in case where black schoolgirl was strip searched
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called for the officers who strip searched a black schoolgirl while she was on her period to be charged with gross misconduct after a report found racism had a role in their decision.
A safeguarding report found that the “traumatic” search by Metropolitan Police officers at the end of 2020 took place at the girl’s school without another adult present, and in the knowledge that she was menstruating.
It said that racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor” in the decision to carry out the search on the girl, referred to as Child Q in the report.
After teachers called the police to the 15-year-old girl’s school, they conducted a strip search where the schoolgirl’s intimate body parts were exposed and she was made to take off her sanitary towel, according to the review.
Mr Khan (pictured) wrote to the Independent Office for Police Conduct on Wednesday to argue that the officers involved should be charged with gross misconduct rather than misconduct, because of the review’s finding that racism had a role in the decision to conduct the strip search.
Mr Khan said he read the report with “dismay and disgust”, adding: “I understand that in line with statutory guidance, allegations of discrimination would normally be considered at the level of gross misconduct rather than misconduct.”
He said the sole reason for the search was the smell of cannabis, an issue which had previously been addressed by the IOPC, the College of Policing and City Hall’s Action Plan, published in November 2020.
The plan states: “The IOPC therefore recommends that the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) take steps to ensure that their officers are not relying on the smell of cannabis alone when deciding to stop and search someone and use grounds based upon multiple objective factors.”
In the review, Child Q said: “All the people that allowed this to happen need to be held responsible. I was held responsible for a smell … but I’m just a child.”
Mr Khan wrote: “As Mayor, I have been clear that London’s police service must have the trust and confidence of the public they serve and incidents such as those experienced by Child Q, not only foster distrust in the Met but actively hamper any efforts to police by consent.”
He said that Londoners “rightly expect their police service to act with the utmost integrity at all times”, and that where standards are not met, they need to have trust that those charged with investigating the police would “leave no stone unturned”.
“This case has understandably caused widespread concern among the public and it is important that all allegations are thoroughly investigated, and that all relevant sources of information are taken into account,” he said.
In the Commons on Thursday, Labour said the Government’s strategy to tackle racial inequalities “fails to deliver” for Child Q.
Shadow equalities minister Taiwo Owatemi said: “This strategy fails to deliver for Child Q, a 15-year-old black girl from Hackney who faced the most appalling treatment at the hands of the police, with racism very likely to have been an influencing factor.
“When the Government publishes a flawed report (the Sewell report]) and then churns out an inadequate strategy a whole year later, these are the very people it is failing.”
Equalities minister Kemi Badenoch replied: “I think it is an appalling incident.
“I am glad to see that the Met has apologised. I am glad to see that the Independent Office for Police Conduct are looking at that. We have systems in place to ensure that, when things go wrong, we can right them. What we cannot do is stop any bad thing from happening to anyone in the country at any time.
“That is a bar, a threshold, that is impossible to meet. But what we do know is that everybody is rightly appalled and outraged by what happened to Child Q. That is an example of a country that cares about ethnic minorities and about children in the system.”
Labour MP Diane Abbott said: “The minister will be aware that recommendation four of her report is that ‘the Government wishes to bridge divides and create partnerships between the police and communities’. Will the minister explain how she thinks strip-searching black schoolgirls helps to bridge the divide between the police and communities?”
Ms Badenoch said “strip searching is one of the most intrusive powers available to the police because it allows officers to go well beyond a person’s outer clothing” and that the incident was being investigated.
Labour MP Janet Daby expressed her “dismay and sorrow” over Child Q’s experience and said: “This morning, I was shocked to hear that she was taken out of an exam by teachers and, following her ordeal, it was considered appropriate by all professionals concerned for her to return to her exam with absolutely no consideration to her emotional wellbeing.”
She said it was “one of the cruelest and most despicable things I’ve ever heard” and said the teachers and officers concerned were a “shame to their profession”.
Labour MP Barry Gardiner questioned whether what happened to Child Q is isolated, adding: “In Brent North, we saw the vile treatment of the dead bodies of two black sisters – Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman – by the very police officers who were supposed to be safeguarding the crime scene.”
Commons Leader Mark Spencer replied: “I don’t really want to comment on the individual case he raised at the beginning. I’d say, in general terms, the use of strip-search powers is an operational matter for the police, but we’re clear that the use of those powers should be in accordance with the law and with full regard to the dignity of individuals concerned.
“I’m currently dealing with two other disturbing cases of police racism on behalf of my constituents. Colleagues across the House are desperately concerned about this issue.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “This was a distressing incident which should not have happened. We are in touch with the school in question, where staff are taking steps to support the child involved and her family.”
“Schools should be places where pupils feel safe and protected, which is why we have strengthened our safeguarding guidance and extended it to all schools and post-16 settings – staff should receive regular safeguarding training to improve their confidence in managing sensitive situations.”
Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2022, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Dominic Lipinski / PA.