Report: Racism, bias likely factors in Scotland Yard strip-search of Black schoolgirl

The child was on her period at the time she was made to undress without another adult present, according to a review.

Scotland Yard has apologized for its officers’ strip-search of a Black schoolgirl who was wrongly accused of carrying cannabis. 

The child was on her period at the time she was made to undress without another adult present. Police were called to the girl’s secondary school in Hackney in 2020 after teachers said she smelt of cannabis and concluded that the teenager had drugs in her possession, BBC reports. 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaks outside New Scotland Yard in London, England. Scotland Yard has apologized for officers’ 2020 strip-search of a Black schoolgirl wrongly accused of carrying cannabis, an incident Khan called a “deeply disturbing case.” (Photo: Victoria Jones – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Two female Scotland Yard officers strip-searched the girl in the school’s medical room. The Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review noted in its report of the incident that the child was asked to take off her sanitary towel during the search, and her private parts were exposed. The officers found no drugs in her possession. 

The “traumatic” body search has had a “profound” effect on the child, who now needs therapy, her family maintains. Scotland Yard called the actions of its Metropolitan Police officers “regrettable” and says it “should never have happened.”

Per the BBC report, Detective Superintendent Dan Rutland of the Met’s Central East Command said: “We recognise that the findings of the safeguarding review reflect this incident should never have happened. It is truly regrettable and on behalf of the Met Police I would like to apologise to the child concerned, her family and the wider community.”

Hackney Council’s mayor and deputy mayor described it as “humiliating, traumatising and utterly shocking treatment” by the officers, per the report.

The safeguarding review noted that racism “likely” played a factor in the ordeal. In the report, the girl is referred to as Child Q, who continues to experience “ongoing” trauma related to the violation she was forced to endure. Her family said she was a “happy-go-lucky girl” prior to the embarrassing strip-search, and now is “a timid recluse that hardly speaks” and self-harms.

The review found that a situation like this would not have played out the same way had the juvenile not been Black. The City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, which conducted the review, called a key factor “adultification bias,” in which adults think young Blacks are older, simply seeing them as more “streetwise” because of their race.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan called it a “deeply disturbing case.”

As reported by Sky News, the girl has issued a written statement in response to the review, and in it, she makes clear that she wants those involved in the strip-search to “be held responsible.”

“I need to know that the people who have done this to me can’t do it to anyone else ever again,” she said, “in fact, so no one else can do this to any other child in their care.”

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