An east London school where a 15-year-old black girl was strip-searched by police officers is facing legal action and calls for its headteacher to resign.
The student, known only as Child Q, thanked the outpouring of support after details of the “appalling” case at the Hackney secondary were published last week. The school’s governors have now also apologised for the “shocking” incident.
A Local Child Safeguarding Practice Review found racism was “likely” to have influenced the strip-search in the school’s medical room after she was wrongly accused of carrying drugs in December 2020.
Lawyers representing the child have launched civil proceedings against the Metropolitan Police and the unnamed school “to hold both institutions to account” so that such a case “never happens again”.
Philip Glanville, the mayor of Hackney, and Anntoinette Bramble, the deputy mayor, this week demanded a leadership overhaul at the school after more “troubling” reports from staff, families and young people.
“We’ve no choice but to express our lack of confidence in the current leadership and to ask that the headteacher should stand down,” Glanville said.
This would “allow that school and its community the new start it needs to heal from this traumatic experience and, by doing so, also recognise the traumatic impact on Child Q and her family”.
The review found the girl’s intimate body parts were exposed without an appropriate adult present and “with the knowledge” the child was menstruating.
Staff had “insufficient focus” on safeguarding needs about suspected drug use and “deferred” to the police’s authority.
The panel said the Department for Education’s guidance on searching children should be “strengthened by including much stronger reference to the primary need to safeguard children”.
At present it “worryingly” contained “outdated terminology” and focused too much on discipline.
Chanel Dolcy, a solicitor at Bhatt Murphy, which is representing the child’s family, said they want to “hold both institutions to account including through cast iron commitments to ensure this never happens again to any other child”.
‘Systemic’ mistreatment of black children
Florence Cole, an education solicitor at Just for Kids Law, which is also part of the legal team, said the case illustrated the “systemic” mistreatment of black children, the lack of safeguarding and the failure to recognise the “ripple” effects of the trauma that followed.
Hundreds of protestors marched through north London at the weekend in support of the child. In a statement, Child Q thanked the “thousands of people” supporting her. Her mother said “necessary action” should be taken against “all members of staff involved”.
The Met has admitted the search of a girl who “smelled of cannabis” should “never have happened”.
The Guardian reported that Marcus Barnett, Hackney’s Basic Unit commander, admitted at a community meeting on Wednesday that the Met has a problem with officers viewing inner London children as “adults”.
Detective superintendent Dan Rutland, who was also at the meeting, said: “We believe that kids in London are more resilient than they are.”
The two officers who conducted the search have been removed from frontline duties. The Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating.
Figures show Met officers have made 9,088 strip-searches of children over the past five years. This includes 2,360 on children under 16.
School’s governors offer ‘full and formal apology’
A spokesperson for the school’s governing board described the incident as “harrowing” and said they understood and shared the “sadness and anger that is being felt by the community”.
They said changes had been made since the “shocking events”, adding that while the school was not aware a strip search was taking place, they “wholly accept that the child should not have been left in the situation that she was”.
“For this, we have offered a full and formal apology to Child Q and her family, and continue to work with them to provide what support we can.”
The spokesperson said experts in safeguarding and equality, diversity and inclusion had spent “considerable time looking at all aspects of life at our school”.
“Changes were made immediately after the incident, and continued to be made. The makeup and leadership of our board has changed, how we engage with the police has completely evolved, and our safeguarding policies have been through rigorous and robust review.
“While we are confident that this is not something that could ever happen again in our school, we hope that the horrible and deeply troubling events that occurred are discussed, digested and acted upon by the whole of the sector to support children across the country.”