A black schoolgirl was strip-searched by Metropolitan Police officers while on her period after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis, a report has found.
The “traumatic” search took place at the girl’s London school without another adult present and in the knowledge that she was menstruating, a safeguarding report recounting the incident said.
It concluded that the strip search should never have happened, was unjustified and racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”.
According to the report, the impact on the secondary school pupil – referred to anonymously as Child Q – was “profound” and the repercussions “obvious and ongoing”.
Family members described her as changing from a “happy-go-lucky girl to a timid recluse that hardly speaks”, who now self-harms and needs therapy.
Scotland Yard has apologised and said the incident “should never have happened”.
The Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review, published in March, was conducted by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP) following the incident at the end of 2020.
It said police arrived at the school after being called by teachers, who said they were concerned that the teenager had drugs in her possession because she smelt of cannabis.
She was taken to the medical room and strip-searched by two female officers, while teachers remained outside.
During the ordeal her intimate body parts were exposed and she was asked to take off her sanitary towel, according to the review.
No drugs were found. She was then sent home by taxi, later sharing her distress with her mother.
Her family strongly believe the strip-search was a racist incident, and the review found that her experiences are “unlikely to have been the same” had she not been black.
It said it is highly likely that ‘adultification bias’ was a factor – where adults perceive black children as being older than they are because they see them as more ‘streetwise’.
It reads: “The disproportionate decision to strip search Child Q is unlikely to have been disconnected from her ethnicity and her background as a child growing up on an estate in Hackney.”
In a written statement to the review, the girl said she cannot go a single day “without wanting to scream, shout, cry or just give up.”
She 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.
“The main thing I need is space and time to understand what has happened to me and exactly how I feel about it and getting past this exam season.”
She added: “I need to know that the people who have done this to me can’t do it to anyone else ever again, in fact so no one else can do this to any other child in their care.”
Councillor Anntoinette Bramble, deputy mayor and cabinet member for Hackney Council’s Children’s Services, and Hackney mayor, Philip Glanville, said they were “appalled” by all aspects of the review.
In a joint statement they said: “Child Q was subjected to humiliating, traumatising and utterly shocking treatment by police officers – actions that were wholly disproportionate to the alleged incident to which they had been called.
“This is exacerbated by the fact that the strip search was carried out at school – a place where the child had an expectation of safety, security and care.
“Instead, she was let down by those who were meant to protect her.”
The police must “stop inexcusable behaviours and mindsets in order to properly serve all our diverse communities”, they added.
They have asked for a report in six to nine months on progress made regarding the review’s eight findings and 14 recommendations.
These include calls for the Department for Education to make more explicit reference to safeguarding in its guidance on searching, screening and confiscation, and for police guidance on strip searching children to clearly outline the need for a focus on safeguarding.
The Met said the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) was investigating, following a complaint in May 2021.
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.
“It is wholly right that the actions of officers are held to scrutiny and we welcome this review which was commissioned by the statutory partnership with the support of police.
"We have already reminded local officers of the appropriate policies in place around carrying out searches in schools.
“We are conscious that the IOPC are still completing their independent investigation, so further comment would be inappropriate at this time.”