August 2022: 'State-sanctioned child abuse'
With more stats and stories emerging week on week, the scandal surrounding police strip searching of children continues
The police forces of England and Wales have generously (yet unknowingly) provided us with a great deal of material for this month’s newsletter. From the racially-motivated vehicle stop of athlete Ricardo dos Santos, to countless cases of misogyny and excessive force in August alone, to the abhorrent strip searching and criminalising of young kids in schools, at festivals, and on the streets – the state of policing in the UK right now would almost be funny if it wasn’t so disturbing.
This month at StopWatch, we have…
Responded to the Office for National Statistics consultation on how questions are set for the national crime survey
Re-launched our Instagram with help from our volunteers - follow us at @StopWatch_UK for practical advice, information, and news on stop and search
Secured a venue for our Rights and Wellbeing weekend which will be held in December – stay tuned for further updates in the coming months!
Topics in this newsletter include:
The horrific stats that have emerged in the wake of the Child Q case about the strip searching of children and teenagers by police in London and beyond
Greater Manchester Police’s undeniably racist attempt to ban kids ‘perceived by others to be associated to a street gang’ from the Manchester Caribbean Carnival
An assortment of instances of misogyny in the Met, including the case of an officer who told a woman ‘I was hoping they would let me conduct a search on you in custody’ and another officer accused of cutting off a woman’s clothes in an ‘unjustified’ strip search
Please enjoy our roundup of stories below.
‘State-sanctioned child abuse’: the police war on kids
Not content with mistreating people of colour, women, the LGBTQ+ community, homeless people, the working class, disabled people, and people with mental health issues, it seems that police forces in England and Wales are prepared to defend their indefensible police racism and violent treatment of actual children too.
On the 8th of August, Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza published a report on the strip searching of children by the Metropolitan Police Service in the wake of the Child Q scandal, which involved a 15-year-old girl who was strip searched at school by two police officers whilst on her period, without an appropriate adult present (as is legally required), because staff thought she smelled of cannabis.
Using powers granted to the Children’s Commissioner under the Children and Families Act 2014, de Souza’s report published Met police data on strip searches of children during stop and searches between 2018 and 2020. The report found that 650 children and teenagers were strip searched by Met officers during this period. In 23% of cases, an appropriate adult was not present. 58% of these ‘intrusive and traumatic’ strip searches were done on Black children (for context, only 19% of kids aged 10-17 in Greater London are Black). In the foreword to the report, de Souza wrote:
I am deeply concerned by the information that I have received. I am not reassured that what happened to Child Q was an isolated issue, though it was certainly rare and the context unique. Instead, I believe it indicates more systemic problems around child protection. I remain unconvinced that the Metropolitan Police is consistently considering children’s welfare and wellbeing.
Deborah Coles, executive director of INQUEST, neatly summed it up in her description of de Souza’s findings: ‘This report is about state-sanctioned child abuse operating outside the law. It also reveals racist and discriminatory policing and the dehumanising of black children.’
Meanwhile, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) have opened another two investigations into Met strip searches of kids without an appropriate adult, bringing the total number of cases of this kind referred to the watchdog up to 11. Both of these new investigations involve 16-year-old boys who were strip searched in custody in 2020: one in Ilford, the other in Bethnal Green.
However, as echoed elsewhere in policing news (see story about the death of Oladeji Omishore later in this newsletter), the IOPC haven’t escaped criticism, either. In response to these two cases, lawyer and blogger Ian Gould tweeted:
Two days after the Children’s Commissioner’s report was released, statistics about strip searches in the West Midlands hit the news, too. According to Birmingham Live, in a single year, West Midlands police conducted 160 strip searches on children between the ages of 13 and 17 years – but the force were unable to provide a breakdown of the data by ethnicity.
A freedom of information request submitted to the same police force earlier this summer showed that 171 under-18s were strip searched following a stop and search between 2014 and 2021 – however, the FOI response notes that due to a change in recording systems, complete data was unavailable. Of the 171, 32% – almost one in three – were recorded as Asian British, while 22% – nearly a quarter – were recorded as Black British. The force also had the gall to add in their response to the FOI that ‘[a]lthough excess cost removes the force’s obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, as a gesture of goodwill I have supplied information, relative to your request, retrieved before it was realised that the fees limit would be exceeded’ (italics ours). ‘Cost’ was also given as the reason for questions about the presence of appropriate adults, strip searches in schools, and full breakdown by ethnicity, gender, and age being left unanswered.
During a Channel 4 interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy, former Greater Manchester Police (GMP) chief constable Peter Fahy seemed to be making the same old police-know-best, ‘curtailing police powers in any way will lead to unimaginable social chaos’ kind of arguments when asked about the strip search stats revealed by the Children’s Commissioner’s report, arguing that restricting police search powers would actually leave children more vulnerable.
When asked if he was shocked by the figures, Fahy replied that he was ‘not shocked, but disturbed’ by the story that the figures tell about the number of young people being drawn into violence and drug gangs. ‘Well that’s a very interesting spin’, Guru-Murthy responded, ‘but the numbers don’t tell us that at all – they don’t tell us anything about the drug trade or violence – what they tell us about is the number of children being abused by police officers’. And as Guru-Murthy pointed out towards the end of the interview, ‘There are no figures in this data that [show] that these young people are involved in any of the stuff that you’re talking about [drug gangs and youth violence]’.
It’s disappointing, but not at all surprising that Fahy takes this line. This is a classic police narrative that we’ve seen time and time again over a number of decades – one that takes for granted the idea that police behaviour and tactics (particularly stop and search) are necessarily linked to levels of crime or violence. Time and time again, however, research has shown that this is simply not the case – and the stats themselves show that many of these degrading searches result in no further action.
Last month, the Department for Education released new guidance on strip searches in schools, following the safeguarding review of the Child Q case. Writing in The Canary earlier this month, journalist Sophia Purdy-Moore points out that the guidance itself – and its implicit acceptance of strip searches in schools as a necessary and unavoidable practice that ‘can play a critical role in ensuring that schools are safe environments’ – undermines its own aim of keeping children safe.
As Purdy-Moore argues, ‘the new guidance creates an alarming narrative that in some cases, it’s ok for police to strip search a child […] there are no circumstances in which a child can be protected from harm while being strip searched […] by police’. She quotes the End Strip Search coalition, who write that:
Even when ‘safeguards’ are in place, like parents being notified or an appropriate adult acting as a witness, the strip search experience is still one of trauma. A child is always traumatised, whether protocol is followed or not.
Purdy-Moore also points out that the guidance mentions nothing about adultification bias, which was acknowledged as playing a key role in the case of Child Q. According to Jahnine Davis, a PhD researcher and expert on the safeguarding of Black children, adultification bias ‘is where [Black] children are perceived as being more adult like, and where they are seen through a lens of deviancy and not necessarily acknowledged as deserving victims, and where their innocence and vulnerability is erased over time’.
The problem of adultification bias in policing was also raised by campaigners and commentators earlier this month, when GMP was accused of using ‘deeply racist’ tactics after it sent letters to a group of people (predominantly young men of colour) banning them from attending the Manchester Caribbean Carnival in Moss Side. The letters read:
This letter has been issued to YOU, based on an individual basis, as it is believed that YOU are either: a member of a street gang; affiliated to a street gang; perceived by others to be associated to a street gang; involved in criminal activity; arrested at [Caribbean Carnival of Manchester in] 2019/2020/2021; involved or linked to serious youth violence.
Roxy Legane, who tweeted a copy of one of the letters, described the situation as one of ‘guessing at gangs’. As StopWatch highlighted in our recent response to the ‘Consultation on the Redesign of the Crime Survey for England and Wales’, broad constructions of what constitutes a ‘gang’ not only tend to be entrenched in deeply racist stereotypes and assumptions, but also hold the potential to criminalise many other ways that young people socialise: ‘under [a broad definition of a gang], we could consider every 5-a-side team in the country to be a street gang’. For some reason, though, you don’t tend to see many children’s after-school orchestra groups in wealthy white areas, for example, being labelled as a ‘gang’, do you?
Sadly, the strip searching revealed by the data about the Met and the West Midlands Police, and the racist labelling of teenagers by the GMP is not the end of the story when it comes to the police’s failures relating to kids this month: in Warwickshire, HMICFRS told police to improve their child protection services after it was revealed that a third of cases (including investigations into online sexual exploitation) were dealt with inadequately.
And to round things off: not only are police abusing kids through the use of stop and search and strip search powers, they’ll also attack anyone – even a 79-year-old pensioner – who questions their power to do so. Former journalist Jonathan Hunt was handcuffed, wrongly accused of hitting an officer on the head, and bundled into a police van in Camberwell, London when he tried to film plain-clothes police stopping and searching a young teenager from 15 feet away.
Deaths from police contact
Oladeji (Deji) Omishore
The 41-year-old fell into the River Thames following use of Taser by two Met police officers on Chelsea Bridge, whilst he was experiencing a mental health crisis. Deji’s family have criticised the IOPC’s response to the case, with their lawyer saying ‘It is not surprising that bereaved families lack confidence in IOPC decision making when it doesn’t feel forthright or vigorous’. (INQUEST, 23rd Aug)
An inquiry has been launched by the IOPC after police officers Tasered a 93-year-old care home resident who had dementia and was a wheelchair user. Donald Burgess died in July, three weeks after the incident. (The Guardian, 4th Aug)
Seven Merseyside Police officers are now being investigated for gross misconduct after Robert Evans, 59, died at home in Liverpool following a stop and search. (IOPC, 17th Aug)
The IOPC has started an investigation into the Met police’s contact with Liam Allan, 24, who drowned in the Thames after being placed under arrest by officers in south west London. (IOPC, 27th Aug)
The IOPC this month cleared officers of wrongdoing after Ian Taylor, 54, died begging for help while handcuffed and struggling to breathe in Brixton in 2019. ‘Despite repeatedly telling the officers that he could not breathe and saying he believed he was going to die, Mr Taylor was left handcuffed and lying on the street on one of the hottest days of the year, without an inhaler, water, shade or medical assistance’. (The Independent, 23rd Aug)
Met officer tells woman ‘I was hoping they would let me conduct a search on you in custody’: PC Andrew Turner made the comments on the phone to the 28-year-old, unaware that she was recording him. He has been given a ‘final warning’ following a misconduct hearing, but has been allowed to keep his job with the force. Two days later, police leaders promise a crackdown on officers who are abusive to women in new College of Policing guidance. Andy Marsh, head of the College of Policing, said: ‘There are some people that remain in policing that I don’t think should be in policing’. (The Mirror, 15th Aug; The Guardian, 17th Aug)
Officers accused of cutting off a woman’s clothes during a strip search: Two Met police officers are facing disciplinary proceedings over claims a female detainee’s clothes were cut off with scissors in an ‘unjustified’ strip search witnessed by male officers. (Evening Standard, 9th Aug)
Ricardo dos Santos subject to a second high-profile vehicle stop by Met police: The sprinter was stopped by armed police while driving home in London earlier this month. The IOPC later ruled out an inquiry, returning the complaint to the Met to investigate internally. (The Guardian, 15th & 25th Aug). See StopWatch’s traffic stops factsheet for information about your legal rights during a section 163 stop.
Report says UK policing and border control fuelled by ‘war mentality’: The Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) and NetPol joint report describes the hyper-militarisation of British policing agencies as ‘deeply troubling’. (The Guardian, 4th Aug)
Police racial bias played a role in UK Covid-19 fines regime: Researchers say institutional racism probably contributed to ‘differential approach’ to enforcement of powers. (The Guardian, 5th Aug)
Shakeup at the Met, and more drama to come: Three senior officers – and allies of former commissioner Cressida Dick – depart; Lynne Owens brought in as interim deputy commissioner (and suggests that smarter uniforms would improve trust in the police); and the pressure is on as likely new Tory party leader Liz Truss vows to reintroduce police targets to cut ‘key crimes’ by 20%. Meanwhile Dick-related drama continues as ‘biased’ and ‘factually flawed’ report accuses London Mayor Sadiq Khan of unfairly ousting ex-commissioner. (The Guardian, 8th Aug; Evening Standard, 15th Aug; The Independent, 8th Aug; The Guardian, 26th Aug)
Click on the logo below access the full repository of stories from the Institute of Race Relations Register of Racism and Resistance.
Section 60 watch*
Leigh-on-sea and Chalkwell [Southend] (14 Aug)
Ipswich (15 Aug)
* This is not a comprehensive list
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