Are the Police Misusing their Strip Search Powers?

I was recently consulted by the BBC in relation to the case of Koshka Duff, an academic who was arrested and subjected to the gross indignity of a strip search by the Metropolitan Police. You can read Koshka’s story here.

Excessive Force and Unlawful Arrest

I was sadly unsurprised to note that whilst all evidence points to excessive force being used against Ms Duff, she being the one with documented, visible injuries following this encounter – it was she who was accused of assaulting an officer rather than the other way around. An accusation of ‘assault PC’  often seems to be a reflective defence mechanism by the officers involved in ‘over the top’ arrests, who are, no doubt, conscious of the need to justify the force they have used, by alleging violence on the part of the person arrested; in my experience, the majority of these ‘suspect’ allegations of ‘assault PC’ are subsequently dropped before they get to Trial or else are disproven in front of the Magistrates.

Refusal to Provide Personal Details following Wrongful Arrest

Whilst I entirely sympathise with Ms Duff’s strong feelings that because she had been assaulted and wrongfully arrested she did not want to ‘give in’ to the Police and provide her details, long experience tells me that no good comes of such an action. I would advise everyone, once arrest has occurred – no matter how wronged you may feel – to co-operate with the Police and provide disclosure of your personal details. This will give the Police far fewer excuses to prolong your detention, or indeed to detain you at all – if you provide your details, it may not be justifiably “necessary” for the Police to take you into custody as opposed to issuing a penalty notice, a summons or having you attend a voluntary interview at a later date. If you present yourself as John/ Jane Doe you are giving the Officers a valid reason to detain you until your identity is established.

I feel that rather than withholding her details – or trying to use that information to bargain with the officers – Ms Duff should have identified herself, and taken the earliest offered opportunity for interview (by all means going “No Comment”). This may well have led to her earlier release.
In co-operating with them, you may have to swallow your pride for a short time, but all of your rights to pursue a complaint and/ or a civil claim for compensation are intact. By providing your details, you can ‘fight again another day’ and in the meantime have hopefully considerably shortened the time the Police can lawfully detain you for. In the end, everybody ends up having to identify themselves so this kind of protest at arrest is, sadly, inevitably futile.

Misuse of Strip Search Powers by the Police

On the facts available to me, the strip search of Ms Duff certainly seems excessive and unlawful. There appear to have been no reasonable grounds to assume that Ms Duff was carrying a weapon on her person (or any other concealed/ prohibited item) and the truth behind the search appears to have been spelled out by the Custody Sergeant himself when he wrote in the Custody Record “Refuses to tell police her identity”. Refusal to identify yourself – notwithstanding my comments above that Ms Duff should in her own best interests have done so – does not entitle the Police to subject you to the gross indignity of a strip search absent other reasons/ clear risk factors.

I sadly suspect that the decision to strip Ms Duff was born out of Police frustration at her refusal to identify herself, and was in that respect a gross misuse of the power i.e it was intended to frighten/ shock her into ‘submission’ such that she would become compliant with Police demands. In numerous cases in which I have acted, I have seen highly ‘suspect’ strip- searches being authorised in circumstances where it seems the true intent – as here – was to punish/ humiliate the detained person. Indeed, I have recently settled a claim on behalf of Mr Paul Ponting against Lancashire Police, one of the key features of which was a strip search that in my opinion was totally illegal and unjustified; it must have been apparent to the officers that Mr Ponting had no dangerous/ concealed items on his person yet he was nevertheless violently stripped of his clothes and left naked in a cell for hours, all because he had not immediately co-operated with questions put to him by the Custody Sergeant on arrival at the Station. Little or no (less than a minute) attempt was made to reason/ discuss with Mr Ponting before he was carted off to the cell for what we might call his ‘dose of medicine’ (in the eyes of the Police). Footage of this shocking strip search was recently featured in high- profile media reports regarding the settlement of his case, including by the Liverpool Echo and ITV News. I strongly feel that Ms Duff was a victim of the very same brand of Police misconduct.

I would point out that the comments of the Officers as reported by Ms Duff – derisorily referring to her as a “bleeding heart Lefty” and “some sort of Socialist” – demonstrate that at no point did they seriously consider her to be a criminal or gang member carrying weapons or drugs – and in this light we can, I believe, correctly characterise her subsequent stripping as a deliberate and malicious act specifically designed to teach someone who they considered to be an interfering busybody a lesson…In doing so it was, in my opinion, the Police Officers involved who made themselves criminals by perpetrating an unlawful assault upon an innocent citizen.

I wish Ms Duff the very best of luck in proceeding with a Judicial Review of the Misconduct Panel’s decision to exonerate the Custody Sergeant who authorised the strip search. The road to justice can sometimes be a long one, but when a person’s determination is combined with the right legal advice and representation, all obstacles can be overcome.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.