by Hugo Pierre, Unison NEC black members’ rep (personal capacity)
There has been justifiable rage in Hackney, east London, following the report that a 15-year-old black girl, Child Q, was subjected to a full body intimate strip search by police at school. She was even told to remove a sanitary towel because the school believed she had drugs on her; she didn’t.
Child Q said: “Someone walked into the school where I was supposed to feel safe, took me away from the people who were supposed to protect me, and stripped me naked, while on my period”.
Thousands of local people have demonstrated outside Stoke Newington police station and Hackney Town Hall, and there have been ongoing protests by students at the school where the strip search took place.
What happened to Child Q was child abuse by the police, and there is rightly anger that this took place in school where parents expect their children to be cared for. The Child Safeguarding Review report of the incident found it likely that racism played a part in the decision to call the police and the police’s decision to search the child.
School staff suspected Child Q had cannabis on her. They found nothing in her bag, blazer or shoes. They called the schools police liaison officer, who was unavailable, then called 101.
Two local female officers took Child Q into a medical room to conduct a search, which the safeguarding review said should only be reserved where there is suspicion of Class A drugs! With no parent or legally trained ‘appropriate adult’ present during the search, the school worker assumed this role, but was not told by the police what they were going to do and remained outside the room. The worker said to the review: “In hindsight I put my trust in the law”, believing the police would act lawfully.
The Socialist Party demands that no intimate or strip searches should be carried out at any school, no untrained school staff should act as ‘appropriate adult’, and parents or guardians must be present where police want to interview a child in school.
The report also said that both the school and the police failed to take account of the safeguarding of Child Q, and instead simply saw the issue as a potential criminal matter. Many parents who spoke at the protests expressed their concerns that local schools see black children as a danger – ‘adultification’ – and often practice a ‘zero-tolerance’ policy. In the past, the borough has had a problem with high exclusion rates for black children.
If the police responsible came from Stoke Newington police station, there would be no surprise that racism was a factor. Older activists still remember the murder of Colin Roach at their hands. There can be no trust in the Metropolitan Police Service, where recent reports exposed a culture of racism and misogyny. They remain unaccountable to local workers
The Met, which is still directly accountable to the home secretary, but now in consultation with the mayor of London, remains the least accountable policing authority in the UK. The Socialist Party demands that Londoners, especially in working-class communities like Hackney, have a police service accountable to elected workers’ representatives. Their day-to-day operational tasks must be determined by the local community, as well as who is recruited.
Unfortunately, many of the secondary schools in Hackney are now academies. This means they can act outside of any policies agreed by the local authority and don’t have to take their advice. It seems the school only approved the council’s model policies on safeguarding in the summer of 2021.
The Trust that runs the school could also be completely unaccountable to the local community and run by business sponsors. It is also not clear whether local parents are on the Trust board and how they are accountable to the school community. The children at the school will have little or no real representation to determine the policies of the school.
However the local authority still has responsibility for the safeguarding of all children and, as such, the Socialist Party demands that it instruct all schools that no strip or intimate searches can take place in any school.
The National Education Union, in particular, has run a number of campaigns in east London against bullying in academies and attacks on teachers’ terms and conditions. These attacks undermine the ability of school workers to make challenges to authority, whether it’s questioning the decisions of the police or challenging school policies.
The Socialist Party demands the ending of academies and free schools and that all schools be brought back under direct local authority control.
Some students understandably feel let down by the action of some school staff. However, the demands of the students for proper safeguarding and safety from the police can only be guaranteed if there is strong trade union organisation and a willingness to fight.
Hackney is one of the poorest boroughs in England even though parts have been gentrified. Attacks on services, especially for young people, have resulted in some being trapped in a life of crime.
The Socialist Party demands fully funded professional play and youth services, backed up with support services to provide for mental health and well-being services for young people. And Hackney needs well-built council housing to meet the demands of thousands living in poor accommodation or on the waiting lists.
But councillors, whether at Hackney Town Hall or City Hall, including Mayor Sadiq Khan, are making Tory cuts to services. Khan had no confidence in Met Commissioner Cressida Dick, but Londoners have no confidence he will fight for the resources our children need for learning, for their protection in school, or for the provision of safe and productive after-school activities. To fight for the demands students like Child Q need to keep them safe, we need fighting no-cuts councillors in Hackney determined to fight for the money the borough needs.