A Government adviser on violence against women said the strip-searching of a 15-year-old black schoolgirl should “horrify us all”.
Protests and political condemnation erupted after it emerged the teenager – referred to only as Child Q – was strip-searched by female Metropolitan Police officers at her north London school in 2020.
The girl, who was searched without another adult present and in the knowledge that she was menstruating, had been wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis.
A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review, conducted by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP) and published last week, concluded the strip-search was unjustified and racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”.
Nimco Ali, chief executive of the Five Foundation and an adviser on violence against women and girls to the Home Office, said the Child Q case “should be something we shouldn’t be able to tolerate in this country”.
Speaking to Sky News on Sunday, Ms Ali said: “I know it’s an ongoing case and it’s something that should horrify us all.
“And I think the idea of a child being stripped searched, be they female or male, should be something that we shouldn’t be able to tolerate in this country.
Asked about the safeguarding report’s conclusion that racism was a factor, Ms Ali said: “This country is one of the most tolerant countries in Europe but is there more for us to do? Yes, there is.”
She added that Covid has also brought out more unrest, adding: “I’ve kind of experienced that in the last two years – that really horrific experience of racism, which I never thought about the UK could be capable of.
“Ultimately, we have to talk about the Metropolitan Police and institutional racism.”
Her comments come after Metropolitan Police data, which showed five children are strip-searched every day on average by the force in London, prompted fresh anger in the wake of the Child Q case.
The figures, first reported by LBC, show that out of 5,279 children searched after an arrest in the past three years, 3,939 – around 75% – were from ethnically diverse backgrounds.
The data did not cover children who were not arrested but still strip-searched – like Child Q – so it is likely the number in London is even higher.
Weyman Bennett, co-coordinator of the Stand Up to Racism campaign group, called for “urgent change” in light of the “shocking” data.
He told the PA news agency: “You judge a society on how it treats its children.
“These figures are shocking and expose institutional racism in the Met Police.”
Mr Bennett also said it is “shocking” that “these things are still going ahead” more than two decades after the report into the death of Stephen Lawrence was published.
He said: “We need urgent change to deliver a police force that works in the 21st century.”
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police defended its policy, known as More Thorough Search where Intimate Parts are exposed (MTIP), in response to the figures.
A spokesperson said: “We work closely with communities in London and understand that stop and search can have a significant and lasting impact on someone, especially an MTIP and strip searches in custody.
“Every search must be lawful, proportionate and necessary and carried out with respect, dignity and empathy.
“While some may question whether any child should be subject to an MTIP or strip search, there are occasions when it is very necessary to prevent harm to children who may be exploited by gangs, County Lines and drug dealers.
“Used appropriately, stop and search powers save lives and are an important tactic to keep Londoners safe, helping us identify criminality and take drugs and dangerous weapons off the streets.
“Officers are highly trained around the use of stop and search. Part of the training is around unbiased decision making, unconscious bias and the impact of the use of these powers on communities.
“That said we do not underestimate the impact that the use of stop and search has on some individuals and that it continues to cause significant concern within some communities.”