Strip search of children

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 2nd August 2022.

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Photo of Unmesh Desai Unmesh Desai Labour

Given the recent reports we have heard of further cases of children being strip searched that have been referred to the IOPC, can you update us on the work you and MOPAC are doing to ensure that the Met prioritise the safety and dignity of children in any interaction they have with them?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

The safeguarding of children must always be a priority for the MPS. The MPS has agreed that as of 1 April this year [2022] it will review every More Thorough Intimate Parts search and check every strip search of a child in custody to ensure they are carried out properly in line with policy and that children are safeguarded. I am continuing to push the MPS to publish transparent data on strip-searching to allow greater public scrutiny of this area of police practice. Our Independent Custody Visitors pay particular attention to the use of force and strip-searching of children and vulnerable detainees and their findings inform our oversight of the MPS.

Through my Action Plan, officials are working with community organisations and young people to ensure that community-led scrutiny of the use of police powers is more robust and representative. It is essential that officers are held to account for their use of police powers, particularly where there is disproportionality, and I welcome that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is now investigating the actions of officers in the case of Child Q under gross misconduct, as I had called for, rather than misconduct. I have asked HMICFRS to pay particular attention to strip-searching in its next round of custody inspections to provide further assurance and scrutiny. I also welcome the Department for Education’s new advice to schools on searching pupils to ensure they are aware of their responsibilities. The MPS is implementing a series of policy changes to avoid any repeat of these incidents, including increasing the level of supervision required to authorise a strip search and the completion of a safeguarding report in each case.

Finally, I am pleased that Sir Mark Rowley has been appointed as the new Commissioner [of Police of the Metropolis]. Sir Mark has made clear to me that he is determined to be a reforming Commissioner.

Photo of Unmesh Desai Unmesh Desai Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor. You have already talked about disproportionality, which was going to be my first question, but I just want to put this on record. In March [2022] we found out that for the past three years 75% of the 5,200 children who were strip-searched in custody were from ethnic minority backgrounds. This is not acceptable at all. I was going to ask you. Are you confident that the MPS is doing enough to address this obvious and clear disproportionality on racial grounds - I think you already answered that - and how are you monitoring their work on this?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

It is really important and clearly more needs to be done here. I met recently with Laurence Taylor [Deputy Assistant Commissioner for Local Policing, MPS] and I know he came to the Police and Crime Committee as well. This will be one of the issues for the new Commissioner to look into, for the reasons that you are aware of in relation to the concerns we have. The approach of the police must be child-centred, that is really important and so I am more than happy to refer your comments to the new Commissioner as well.

Photo of Unmesh Desai Unmesh Desai Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor. My second and final question is around the Online Safety Bill. The dissemination of indecent images of children online is a key problem within policing at present, as the frequency with which these crimes are committed is increasing every year. How disappointed then are you, Mr Mayor, that the Online Safety Bill has been put on hold due to the Tory leadership campaign? Groups like the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the Board of Deputies of British Jews have already expressed their concern. The NSPCC has described this legislation as crucial in stopping hate festering online.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I am really concerned in relation to safety being compromised because of not just party political interest but intra-party political interest and the chances of Candidate A beating Candidate B. I would hope that when a new leader is elected on 4 or 5 September [2022] the Government accelerates the progress that needs to be made in this area. It is also really important to understand that in the meantime the delays lead to more people suffering.

Photo of Unmesh Desai Unmesh Desai Labour

Thank you, Mr Mayor.