Hackney's top cop “mortified” Child Q scandal happened

The Child Q protest, outside Stoke Newington police station

The Child Q protest, outside Stoke Newington police station - Credit: Julia Gregory, LDRS

Hackney’s top police officer said he is “mortified” by the strip-search of a Black child at her school.

Borough commander Marcus Barnett apologised again to Child Q in a briefing today, and said: “It should never have happened.”

In a message to the girl and her family, he added: “I am genuinely sorry that this happened and has caused the heartache it has.”

A safeguarding review revealed the 15-year-old pupil was strip-searched after staff at her school called in police after suspecting she smelt of cannabis.

No drugs were found during the search, which was carried out without an appropriate adult present.

It led to protests in Hackney, with some calling for the removal of police in schools.

Political leaders also condemned the strip-search as a "failure on every level".

The Child Q protest, outside Stoke Newington police station

The Child Q protest, outside Stoke Newington police station - Credit: Julia Gregory, LDRS

Barnett contacted the teenager and her family in January 2021, as soon as he learned about the strip-search which had taken place the month before.

The two white police officers who carried out the search have been removed from frontline duties.

Child Q is suing the Met Police and her school.

The borough commander said he had offered to visit Child Q and her family but that offer has not been taken up.

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Barnett said there needs to be a conversation around adultification – where children are treated as adults – and racism.

Dan Rutland, the superintendent in charge of public protection at Hackney and Tower Hamlets, said: “I would be kicking the school door down if it had happened as a parent. For me, extremely embarrassing.”

He added: “In London I think it’s a possibility it could have happened to another child. 

"Outside of London – probably not. Do I think it could have happened to a white or Black kid in the Cotswolds? No.”

Rutland said there was some evidence that “we adultify kids in London”.

“We as a police force probably look on them a little bit more resilient in [that they] come into contact with police a little bit more and therefore, in some way, that hardens the experience and we treat them more like adults," he added.

“There is a lot of work that we need to do around that.”

He said there is adultification training underway.

Barnett said: “It has opened up the conversation again and the reality of racism and what does that mean.”

He added: “I’m absolutely of the view that we are not institutionally racist but I am of the view that there is a conversation to be had about racism and what does that mean and how do we safeguard [against it].”

He said there needs to be discussion about how the police become “more attuned to and start to come into line with an anti-racist agenda”, adding: “We are clearly an anti-racist organisation. That’s what we stand for – no place for hate.”

He said: “There is work to be done around getting closer to diverse Black, Asian, ethnic minority communities and understanding lived experience.”

He went on: “I am not sure that if it had been a white girl in a county area or outside of London that this would have happened, but we must wait for the evidence.”

He said the safeguarding review did not say it was a racist incident but that racism may have played a part, deliberate or otherwise.

He said police based in schools play an important role and can help understand the culture in a school community.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct is investigating what happened.

Barnett said there were seven “more thorough intimate searches” on children aged 10 to 17 out of 162  in Hackney in 2021. Six of these involved Black children.

This was out of 228,000 stop and searches in London – 4,300 of them termed ‘more thorough intimate’.

Beyond calling for the school's headteacher to resign, Hackney mayor Philip Glanville has urged the Met to provide an action plan on what steps are being taken following the safeguarding report.

Barnett said the police will respond to the mayor by the end of the week.

He said there has already been training after what happened to prevent a repetition.