Compensation Claim for Teenager Wrongly Strip-Searched for Drugs

Many people were shocked last week to read of the case of  “Child Q” a 15 year old girl strip-searched in her school by the Metropolitan Police because she was wrongly believed to be in possession of cannabis. The Met have issued an apology for this “highly regrettable” incident; sadly, this has once again not arisen because of internal accountability, but because a spotlight has been shone upon the MPS from outside – in this case, a report by the City of London & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership – and the ensuing media storm. Indeed, by reference to a very similar case which I have recently concluded, I can confirm that this incident is not a ‘one off’ and nor do the Met typically show any regret for this sort of abuse of power over a minor – until it is forced out of them.

Metropolitan Police Apology After Strip-Search of Child

On the afternoon of 16 November 2019, my client Tom travelled to London Bridge underground station so as to meet up with his girlfriend.  He travelled there with a male friend.  Upon arrival, Tom and his friend split up so as to locate Tom’s girlfriend in the busy station concourse. 

At the time, Tom was 17 years old. 

Whilst he was walking through the station, Tom was stopped by PC Carter of the Metropolitan Police, who asked him what he was doing.  Tom explained that he was meeting his girlfriend.  PC Carter was joined by two other Officers. The officers were present in the station as part of a joint operation with British Transport Police, and an officer with a Police dog trained to detect drugs was also in the vicinity.

Tom asked if he was being detained.  PC Carter replied, “You’re not detained yet, but if you are obviously keen to leave, it’s arousing my suspicion and I might detain you.”

Tom asked why the Officer would detain him. A second unknown Officer then said “Now you are going to be detained.” PC Carter  then said, “You are detained under section 23 of the Misuse of Drugs Act.  This is a passive drugs dog.  It’s indicated that you may have drugs or that you have been in close proximity of drugs.  So if you come over here with me.” (Subsequent evidence showed both that PC Carter had decided to stop/ question Tom prior to any indication from the drugs dog, and also that the drugs dog’s attention was primarily focused on another nearby  individual, unknown to Tom, who was found to be in possession of illegal drugs).

PC Carter then grabbed Tom’s arm with one hand and Tom’s wrist with the other. Tom remonstrated and said, “You don’t need to hold my arm.  I will comply; you don‘t need to hold my arm.  I have a bad arm, I’ve hurt it.” (He was suffering with muscular soreness in both arms from extensive physical training).

The conversation between Tom and PC Carter (captured on the Officer’s Body Worn Video) continued as follows:

PC Carter –  “We’re not holding it tightly, we don’t have to put you in cuffs, but we might do.”

Tom –  “For what?”

PC Carter –  “All I’m asking you to do is to walk over to the wall with me.”

PC Carter then sought to handcuff Tom to the rear.

The conversation then continued as follows:

Tom – “I’m going over, you don’t need to do that.  Why are you putting me in cuffs?”

PC Carter – “Coz you are being reluctant and evasive.”

The handcuffs were applied very tightly and Tom complained:

Tom – “I’m saying that I’m going to meet my girlfriend……  You don’t need to do it that tight.”

PC Carter – “You are not going to dictate what we can and can’t do.”

Tom – “You don’t need to do it that tight.”

PC Carter – “I can get my finger in there still mate.  Let’s go over here to the wall by the tube map.”

Tom – “For what reason?”

Tom was then taken to a nearby wall.

PC Carter informed Tom that he had seen him come around the corner and stop in his tracks and that had aroused the Officer’s suspicions and that the passive drugs dog had then indicated that Tom might have drugs on him.

PC Carter then carried out a ‘pat down’ search of Tom, both front and rear, during which he touched Tom’s penis several times.  PC Carter asked if Tom had any ID on him. Tom said his wallet was in his right pocket.  A female Officer then removed Tom’s wallet, and Tom gave his full name, date of birth and confirmed that his Oyster card was in his wallet. 

Tom’s friend then called his phone.  Tom asked the Officers to take the call and explain that he had been detained and handcuffed, but they refused to do so.

Tom complained that the handcuffs were cutting off the blood circulation to his hands and he could no longer feel his fingers.  PC Carter dismissed this complaint.

Tom’s friend then approached; Tom asked his friend to confirm that he had indeed attended the station so as to meet his girlfriend, which his friend did.

Tom was confused and shocked by what was happening to him, and understandably embarrassed as members of the public were staring at him.

PC Carter advised Tom that he was not satisfied and that Tom would now be taken for a further search.

PC Carter and four other Officers then escorted Tom out of the station.  Tom again complained that his hands were going numb.

Tom was taken to a toilet in the nearby British Transport Police Station by three male Officers, including PC Carter.  At this time, PC Carter finally removed the handcuffs from Tom.

The most distressing part of the encounter now occurred:  Tom was told to remove his upper clothing items one by one.  He was then allowed to put his t-shirt back on and told to remove his lower clothing items again, one by one.  Having done so, he was told to lift his penis up and then his testicles.  He was then told to spread his legs and bend forwards.  This type of ‘strip search’ is what is known in Police jargon as a MTIP (More Thorough Stop and Search, Intimate Parts Exposed).

Tom felt extremely embarrassed, humiliated and degraded.  He was conscious that PC Carter was wearing a plastic glove.  Tom was immediately anxious as to the extent of PC Carter’s search and said “You’re not putting your finger up my bum”. Fortunately, it did not go that far.

Tom was then allowed to re-dress and was released from the Police Station shortly afterwards. The search was, of course, entirely negative.

Multiple Breaches of Codes A and C of PACE

Tom’s mother was understandably outraged with what had happened to her son, and subsequently filed a complaint about the events.  By report dated 25 September 2020, the Met PSD (Professional Standards Department) found that:

  • PC Carter failed to comply with Code A, specifically that he had failed to identify himself or provide details of his station or unit or inform Tom that he was entitled to a copy of the search record at the conclusion of the search.
  • In breach of Code C, PC Carter carried out a strip search of Tom without an appropriate adult being present (an essential prerequisite given that Tom was only 17 years old).
  • In further breach of Code C, PC Carter carried out a strip search of the Claimant in the presence of two other Officers (no more than two people should be present).
  • Likewise  in breach of Code C, PC Carter failed to secure authority from a Senior Officer (minimum rank of Sergeant) to carry out the strip search.
  • Finally, PC Carter failed to record any justification for the search in an Evidence/Action Book or in his personal issue pocket book.

Notwithstanding all of the identified breaches, the tone of the Complaint report was typically unapologetic, and if anything unsympathetic and hostile towards Tom – excusing the breaches as, in effect, momentary lapses, “accidental oversights” or understandable mistakes on the part of PC Carter. The author of the report was at pains to repeatedly praise PC Carter as “an experienced officer with sound knowledge and capable Policing skills” and at the same time blame Tom – a child lest we forget – for distracting this ‘highly experienced’ officer and making him forget to comply with the law – “My investigation suggests that Tom is partially responsible for the outcome” suggesting without foundation that Tom was unduly “hostile” and dishonest in his dealings with the officer!

The conclusion of the report, therefore, was that despite the investigating officer’s (reluctant) upholding of multiple grounds of complaint, PC Carter was to receive only the minor censure of being advised he had some areas of ‘practice requiring improvement’ to focus on; a mere slap on the wrist indeed.

The tone of the report was really this – Look, you’ve got us on a few technicalities, we’re insensitive to your complaints, we’re not really sorry and we’ll excuse the officer and blame the child wherever possible. It is this type of attitude that stands in the way of real change to problematic aspects of Policing culture: did PC Carter, this experienced officer, somehow make multiple mistakes that day because of misunderstandings/ moments of forgetfulness – or rather did those breaches occur because the Officer’s experience had taught him that corners can be cut, and the requirements of the law as to reasonable grounds for a stop search, reasonable use of force in effecting the search, and compliance with the Codes of Practice can be disregarded or only partially obeyed precisely because his Force will protect him from complaints and either dismiss accusations of unlawful conduct on his behalf, or minimise/ excuse them whilst belittling the complainer?

In any event, I was instructed to pursue matters further by Tom and his mother, who were determined not to let matters rest with such an unsatisfactory complaint outcome.

In response to the letter of claim, the Met failed to admit liability, although at the same time putting forwards a derisory offer of settlement in the sum of £600.

On my advice, Tom rejected that offer and Court proceedings were issued, with the Met soon afterwards making a significantly increased offer of £5,000 (whilst still contesting liability).

Last month, I am pleased to confirm, settlement was agreed in the sum of £10,000 damages for Tom, plus legal costs, and, very significantly given the MPS’s frankly hostile and unconciliatory complaint investigation – a promise of a full apology to acknowledge the unlawfulness of PC Carter’s conduct towards Tom, and the impact it had upon him, to be provided by an officer of at least the rank of Chief Inspector.

Cases such as that of Tom and Child Q leave us not with the scent of cannabis in our nostrils, but a bad taste in our mouths – for all too often the public are forced to swallow the fact that the Police care far too little about Police breaches of the law – even when the law in question has been enshrined to safeguard the rights of children.

All names have been changed in this blog to preserve my client’s anonymity.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.

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