More than 110 Scots children strip-searched as civil liberties fears are raised

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At least 114 children have been strip-searched in police custody in Scotland over the past three years, with only 13 resulting in officers finding an item of concern, it has emerged.

The Children’s Commissioner’s office has raised concern that many youngsters are being searched “unecessarily” which can leave them humiliated and distressed.

While police stopped and searched more than 3,000 children in just 15 months, a further 114 were strip searched over a three-year period ' with only 13 cases where an 'item of concern' was actually found.

While police stopped and searched more than 3,000 children in just 15 months, a further 114 were strip searched over a three-year period ' with only 13 cases where an 'item of concern' was actually found.

Justice secretary Humza Yousaf has also been asked for a “full explanation” for the figures.

Police chiefs insist that such searches of under 18s are only carried out with “appropriate supervision” in place and insist that the welfare of the youngster in question is a “priority”.

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.

Being strop-searched should only be undertaken when there is clear evidence that it is required

NICK HOBBS Children’s Commissioner’s office

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

Searches were carried out on four 13-year-olds, 11 people aged 14 and 32 youngsters aged 15 in 2017-18, according to Police Scotland figures. 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 per cent 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 2019-20 up until October, 29,528 throughout 2018-19 and 31,373 in 2017-18. Negative searches made up 85 per cent of the total in 2019-20, 88 per cent in 2018-19 and 86 per cent in 2017-18.

Women made up 16 per cent to 17 per cent 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.”

But Police Scotland defended its procedures. 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”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, Willie Rennie, said: “This is deserves a full explanation from the justice secretary and the Chief Constable.

“We must make sure that the circumstances of any search are appropriate, informed and alert to the suspect’s vulnerabilities.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Greens said: “The Scottish Greens support the incorporation of the United Nations convention on the rights of a child into Scots law. When that happens, it will difficult for police to justify such practice.”

But a Scottish Government spokesman said: “We must ensure a balance between protecting the public and recognising the rights of individuals.

“How and when to search individuals is a matter for Police Scotland.”

Separate figures earlier this year showed police stopped and searched more than 3,000 children in 15 months but officers found nothing in almost two thirds of cases.

The youngest person to be stopped and searched was a seven-year-old girl who officers suspected to be in possession of drugs.