POLICE Scotland has carried out more than 1,000 strip searches on children in the last two years, according to figures uncovered by The Herald. 

Of the 1089 strip searches of under 18s carried out between January 2020 and March 2022, three were on 13 year olds. 

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland told The Herald that the searches should only be carried out “when there is clear evidence that it is lawful, necessary, and proportionate.”

But Liberal Democrat Justice spokesman, Liam McArthur said he was “not convinced” that Police Scotland had struck the right balance.

The MSP called on the force to “set out the rationale behind these searches and what steps they are taking to ensure that they are used in a way that is appropriate and proportionate."

Police Scotland told us they were continuing “to reduce the number of strip searches carried out on children.”

Earlier this year, the police watchdog in England launched an investigation after officers in London strip searched a teenage girl, known as Child Q, while she was menstruating. 

She was searched at her school in East London by two female officers in Hackney in December 2020, after being wrongly suspected of carrying drugs.

Her ordeal sparked fury, with questions being asked in Parliament. There were concerns the girl had been treated differently because she is black. 

The case prompted further scrutiny of the use of strip search on under 18s.

Last month, the BBC revealed that more than 13,000 people under the age of 18 have been strip-searched in England and Wales since 2017.

The figures for Scotland were not known until now. 

Of the 1089 strip searches carried out, 128 were during stop and searches.

However, the definition of a strip search here is “the removal of more than outer coat, jacket, gloves, headgear or footwear.”

Of those searches, 55 recorded a negative result. 

The other 961 searches were after a young person had been brought into custody.

As well as the three 13-year-olds, since January 2020, 12 14-year-olds, 56 15-year-olds, 264 16-year-olds, and 626 17-year-olds were strip-searched while held in custody.

Here, a strip search generally includes all clothes where a constable “reasonably considers the detainee might have concealed” drugs of “potentially harmful articles.”

According to the force’s standard operating procedure, all strip searches must be authorised by a constable of the rank of Inspector or above, and can only be carried out by someone of the same sex and take place in “an area where the detainee cannot be seen by anyone who does not need to be present, nor by a member of the opposite sex.” 

While the number of people who witness the search “must be kept to the absolute minimum necessary” there “must always be at least two persons other than the person who is being searched present during the search.”

For searches of children, “the police should try to ensure that a responsible adult is present” except in urgent cases “where there is risk of serious harm to the detainee or to others.”

The procedure says that detainees “shall not normally be required to remove all their clothes at the same time, e.g. a person should be allowed to remove clothing above the waist and put those clothes back on before removing further clothing.”

It goes on to say that if “necessary to assist the search, the detainee may be required to hold their arms in the air or to stand with their legs apart and bend forward so a visual examination may be made of the genital and anal areas”. 

The searches are visual only, any physical contact would “constitute an intimate search.”

It is not clear how many of these searches of under 18s resulted in anything being found or led to prosecution. 

Nick Hobbs, Head of Advice and Investigations at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, told The Herald: “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 lawful, necessary, and proportionate.

“We need to take a human rights-based approach which treats children in conflict with the law with care, sensitivity, fairness, and respect. Special attention must be given to their wellbeing and needs, including respect for their physical and psychological integrity.”

Mr McArthur said: "For years I have been warning of the need for robust safeguards to be in place so they are only conducted when absolutely necessary. I am not convinced that this balance has been rightly struck.

"The Scottish Government and Police Scotland need to set out the rationale behind these searches and what steps they are taking to ensure that they are used in a way that is appropriate and proportionate."

Divisional Commander Chief Superintendent Gordon McCreadie told The Herald: “As a rights-based organisation, Police Scotland recognises that strip searches can be a distressing experience, particularly for younger people and therefore we continue to reduce the number of strip searches carried out on children.

"If a child is arrested and it is identified that there is a risk to their safety or the safety of others due to concerns over concealed drugs or potentially harmful articles, a strip search may be considered as an option to ensure their care and welfare while in police custody.

“This will only happen where it is assessed that the risk of harm cannot be reduced through any other means, and a strip search may only then take place with the authority of an officer of the rank of inspector or above.

“To support the child, unless there is a risk of serious harm to them or another person, a responsible adult will be present when the strip search is carried out. 

"It can sometimes take place without an appropriate adult if the child has specifically requested this and the adult agrees.

“We are committed to ensuring the safety and wellbeing of those in our care in custody and recognise many are vulnerable and have complex needs, and we work closely with partner organisations to provide an appropriate level of care based on an assessment of these needs and risks.”