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MPs call for review into policing of Black children

Shocking testimony shared in Parliament as Metropolitan Police placed in special measures

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Nandini Archer
28 June 2022, 7.39pm

MPs heard shocking testimony about the treatment of Black children in police custody today as the Met was placed in special measures following a string of scandals. 

“A child aged between 10 and 17 years old, left alone in a police cell for extended periods of time. One can only imagine what they're thinking and how they're feeling,” said Janet Daby, MP for Lewisham East, who brought the debate to Westminster Hall. 

“Children are detained in police cells in police stations that have primarily been built for adults. The government should be deeply concerned about all children across our nation.”

MPs called for a review into the policing of Black children in particular, along with better data collection about children who are strip-searched and a reduction in the time minors are kept in detention. 

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Safeguarding minister Rachel Maclean said in response that the government was addressing crime and working with the police – but did not directly address calls for a review into the policing of young Black people. 

The debate came in the wake of the horrifying case of Child Q, a schoolgirl in Hackney who was strip-searched while on her period, after a teacher wrongly suspected she was carrying drugs. Similar cases of the police strip-searching children have since been reported.

The Child Q scandal is just one of a string to hit the UK’s largest police force in recent years, following the violent police crackdown of mourners at Sarah Everard’s vigil – who had died at the hands of a serving officer. 

Scotland Yard was put on notice by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on Tuesday evening. It must now regularly report to inspectors on specific targets.

Addressing the case of Child Q, Maclean told the Commons: “The Met Police have put a robust plan in place in light of these incidents including training on ‘adultification’ for all officers in the central east command unit which covers Hackney and Tower Hamlets.”

Adultification refers to a form of racial prejudice where Black children in particular are treated as more mature than they actually are. 

Maclean said the government was spending “hundreds of millions of pounds” trying to stop young people “being drawn into knife crime, gang culture and a life of crime”.

We simply cannot be prepared to expose a child to this type of policing culture

Claudia Webbe, MP

But Claudia Webbe, MP for Leicester East, pointed out wider problems with the police, citing the treatment of protesters at the Sarah Everard vigil and the pair of Met Police constables who took photos of murdered sisters Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry in a north-west London park.

She also highlighted “a police culture that no adult, let alone a child, should be faced with”.

“We simply cannot be prepared to expose a child to this type of policing culture,” said Webbe.

“We’re talking about police services that have already been deemed to use sexist, derogatory language when it comes to dealing with people in their custody. We know of adults being strip-searched and it being wrongly applied.”

Meanwhile, Marsha de Cordova, the MP for Battersea and former shadow equalities minister, reported that a constituent of hers was kept in police custody in their school uniform for 23 hours. “Worse still, they were not charged for anything,” she said, “so that child has gone through that horrific experience and there was no charge.”

De Cordova said that it was “deeply worrying” to read the report from children’s rights charity Just for Kids Law, which, via a Freedom of Information request, found that 21,369 children were held in police custody in 2019. She said the response only included information from 34 police forces across the country, so the number could be significantly higher. 

Of those who were held in custody, 44% were Black children. She said this “huge racial disparity” revealed “institutional and structural racism. The government can no longer dismiss it.”

De Cordova called for mandatory monitoring of strip-searched children, including those who have not been arrested. She said an “urgent root and branch review” of the policing of Black children was necessary, which should include clear recommendations on how the police can restore trust. 

“I hope in the minister’s response she will agree with me that we do need a review, and if not, I’d like to understand, why not,” she emphasised.

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