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  1. Stripping a distressed and and vulnerable 14-year-old girl of her clothes upon arrival at a police station may not be the best way to cope with the risk of suicide, the appeal court has warned. But the three judges unanimously found that Merseyside police officers did not breach the teenager’s rights to privacy and acted “reasonably and proportionately in the urgency of the situation with which they were confronted”. The ruling comes after claims that more and more forces are strip-searching children not to look for hidden evidence but to ensure they do not attempt to self-harm or hang themselves while in police custody. Campaign groups say that officers do not take into account the trauma inflicted on young people in the process. The case was brought on behalf of the child, identified only as PD. She had been arrested in 2010 for being drunk and disorderly outside a kebab shop after drinking a large quantity of vodka. The girl had a history of mental health problems. Her parents were not informed, before her clothes were removed, that she had been detained overnight. Three female officers carried out the strip-search. She was put into a gown. Her pants were removed, supposedly because it was feared she could use the elastic to hang herself. CCTV from the cell later showed her ripping her hair out and banging her head against the wall – evidence, it is said, that she felt degraded. The judges, Lord Justice Pitchford, Lord Justice Lewison and Lord Justice Fulford, said: “Children in custody are vulnerable and ... special care is required to protect their interests and well being. [We] express concern that it should have been thought appropriate immediately to remove the clothes of a distressed and vulnerable 14-year-old girl without thought for alternative and less invasive measures to protect her from herself.” But the judges added: “The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace), provided [police] with the power to seize the claimant’s clothing in very limited circumstances, one of which was to prevent the claimant from harming herself. “There is no issue between the parties that this was the legitimate reason for the admitted interference with the claimant’s article 8 right [under the European convention on human rights] to respect for her private life; nor is there any challenge to the [original trial] judge’s finding that the action taken was an urgent necessity.” The officers had therefore not acted disproportionately and the claim failed. In the course of the judgment, however, the judges found that safeguards set out in Pace do apply even to cases where removal of clothes is for the purpose of ensuring a suspect’s safety. The appeal court added: “Except in cases of urgency, where there is a risk of harm to the detainee or to others, an appropriate adult [or parent] must be present (unless the detainee wishes the appropriate adult not to be present).” Two campaign groups, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (Crae) and Just for Kids Law, intervened. Strip-searching of children doubled between 2008 and 2013, according to Crae. The youngest suspect was 12. In 45% of cases, no parent or appropriate adult were present when the child had some or all of their clothing removed. Paola Uccellari, director of Crae, said: “Being stripped by someone in a position of power is inevitably a traumatic and distressing experience for a child. “This measure must only be used as a last resort. If it’s being used as a matter of routine, or unnecessarily, it would breach a child’s human rights. Over-reliance on this practice needs to be looked at as a matter of urgency.” Shauneen Lambe, director of Just for Kids Law, said: “We were alarmed that a police force took the position that when a child is being stripped for their own protection, rather than looking for contraband, the same safeguarding protections did not apply and welcome this clarification from the court of appeal that they do. Along with Crae we have asked the government to undertake a review of why there appears to be such an increase in children being stripped by the police.” View the full article

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