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UK – London: Met Police strip searched black schoolgirl on her period because she ‘smelled of cannabis’

A black schoolgirl was strip searched by police while on her period after being wrongly suspected of carrying cannabis, according to a report.

The ‘traumatic’ search by Metropolitan Police officers took place at the girls’ school without the presence of another adult and with knowledge that she was menstruating, according to a safeguard report.

He concluded that the strip search should never have taken place, was unwarranted and that racism “was likely to have been an influencing factor”.

According to the report, the impact on the secondary school student – called Child Q – was “profound” and the repercussions “evident and ongoing”.

Her family members described her as going from a “carefree girl to a shy recluse who barely speaks”, who now self-harms and needs therapy.

Scotland Yard apologized and said the incident “should never have happened”.

The review of local child protection practices, released in March, was carried out by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership (CHSCP) following the incident in late 2020.

He said police arrived at the school after being called by teachers, who feared the teenager had drugs in her possession because she smelled like cannabis.

She was taken to the medical room and strip searched by two policewomen, while the teachers stayed outside.

During the ordeal, her private body parts were exposed and she was asked to remove her sanitary napkin, according to the review.

No medication was 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 it was “unlikely her experiences would have been the same” had she not been black.

He said it’s highly likely ‘adultification bias’ has been a factor – where adults perceive black children to be older than them because they see them as more ‘virtue of the street’ .

It reads: ‘The disproportionate decision to strip search Child Q is unlikely to have been disconnected from his ethnicity and background as a child growing up on an estate in Hackney.’

In a written statement to the journal, the girl said she couldn’t go a single day ‘without wanting to scream, scream, cry or just give up’.

She said: “All the people who allowed this to happen must be held accountable. I was blamed for a smell…but I’m just a kid.

“The main thing I need is space and time to understand what happened to me and exactly how I feel about it and to get through this exam season.”

She added: “I need to know that the people who did this to me can never do this to anyone else again, in fact no one else can do this to another child whose they have custody.”

Councilor Anntoinette Bramble, Deputy Mayor and member of Hackney Council’s Children’s Services Cabinet, 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, traumatizing and utterly shocking treatment by police officers – actions that were grossly disproportionate to the alleged incident to which they were called.

“This is exacerbated by the fact that the strip search was carried out at school – a place where the child expected safety, security and care.

“Instead, she was abandoned by those who were supposed to protect her.”

Police must “stop inexcusable behavior and mindsets in order to serve all of our diverse communities well,” they added.

They asked for a report in six to nine months on progress made on the review’s eight findings and 14 recommendations.

These include calls for the Department of Education to make more explicit reference to protection in its guidelines on search, tracing and confiscation, and police guidelines on the strip search of children to to clearly emphasize the need to focus on protection.

The Metropolitan Police said the Independent Office for Police Conduct was investigating, following a complaint in May 2021.

Detective Superintendent Dan Rutland of the Met’s East Central Command said: ‘We recognize that the findings of the safeguard review reflect that this incident should never have happened.

“It is truly regrettable and on behalf of the Met Police, I would like to apologize to the child involved, his family and the wider community.”

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