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Over 100 children strip-searched in custody in three years

At least 114 children have been strip-searched in police custody in the last three years.

Police: 114 strip-searched in police custody
Police: 114 strip-searched in police custody

At least 114 children have been strip-searched in police custody in the last three years, with only 13 resulting in officers finding an item of concern, according to Police Scotland figures.

People can be strip-searched by police for “care and welfare reasons”, while suspects detained for drug offences are also brought to custody suites to be searched.

In the former case, searches can be authorised by the custody supervisor unless the person is under 18 years, in which instance authority must be given by an inspector or an officer of a higher rank.

In the latter, case searches must be authorised by an operational officer of rank no lower than an inspector.

In 2017-18, searches were carried out on four 13-year-olds, 11 people aged 14 and 32 youngsters aged 15. Only five of these were positive searches.

In 2018-19, one 13-year-old was strip searched, nine 14-year-olds, and 36 children aged 15. Only four of these were positive searches.

In 2019-20, from April to October, five 14-year-olds and 16 people aged 15 were strip searched. Only four of these were positive searches.

The police figures also reveal 86% of strip-searches of all detainees in police custody in 2019 found no item of concern.

In total, 17,599 people were strip-searched in 2019-2020 up until October, 29,528 throughout 2018-19 and 31,373 in 2017-18.

Negative searches made up 85% of the total in 2019-20, 88% in 2018-19 and 86% in 2017-18.

Women made up 16% to 17% of the total number of searched detainees in those years.

The office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner has stressed those under the age of 18 are children in human rights law terms and a parent, carer or appropriate adult should always be present to support a child when it is deemed necessary to conduct a strip-search.

Nick Hobbs, head of advice and investigations at the office of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner, said: “All children under 18 have the right to be treated with humanity, dignity and in a way that takes into account the needs of their age.

“Being strip-searched can leave children humiliated and distressed, and it should only be undertaken when there is clear evidence that it is required.

“We must be concerned when the number of searches where anything is found is so low as it suggests that many children may be undergoing body searches unnecessarily.

“This data should prompt Police Scotland to consider practice and training in this area.”

He added: “We need to take a human-rights based approach which treats children in conflict with the law with care, sensitivity, fairness and respect.

“Special attention must be given to their well-being and needs, including respect for their physical and psychological integrity.”

Superintendent Phil Davison, of the Criminal Justice Services Division, said: “A strip-search is carried out in custody where there is a suggestion a person may be concealing controlled drugs or other potentially harmful articles.

“This type of search is normally carried out when there is intelligence suggesting a threat and is undertaken for the primary care and welfare of that person to ensure they don’t come to harm, as well as considerations for staff safety.

“During occasions where an individual under the age of 18 is in custody and a strip-search is deemed necessary, appropriate supervision of the search is undertaken and the welfare of the individual in question is a priority.

“A strip-search is an effective method of reducing any risk for their safety, the safety of police officers and police staff.”

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