Police search hundreds of children despite commitment

Stop and search Image copyright Police Scotland
Image caption Over 90% of consensual searches by Police Scotland on children aged under 12 were negative

Police Scotland has reneged on a commitment to abolish stop searches on young children, according to data obtained by BBC Scotland.

Assistant Chief Constable Wayne Mawson told a Holyrood committee in June that the "indefensible" practice of consensual searches on children under the age of 12 would be scrapped.

Since then, 356 children have been searched by police.

Two thirds of these searches were consensual, and 91% recovered no items.

Following the publication of these figures, the Scottish Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Alison McInnes announced she would be seeking to recall Mr Mawson to the justice committee.

She said: "People deserve to know why Police Scotland haven't kept their word on scrapping this unregulated and illiberal position.

"If it is the case that this practice is continuing, it would be reasonable to question if the police misled parliament."

How many like me?

Use the INTERACTIVE CALCULATOR developed by BBC data journalist Marc Ellison to see how many people like you have been stopped and searched by Police Scotland.

There were 436,288 stop-searches between January and November last year, with 654 involving children aged under 12.

By comparison, London's Metropolitan force - which polices a population greater than that of Scotland - searched 19 children under nine in the last year, compared to 159 by Police Scotland.

However, the number of searches by officers in Scotland, on children aged eight to 12, has decreased from the 2,912 carried out between April and December 2013.

'Fairly indefensible'

Police Scotland has said the tactic has contributed to crime being at a 40-year low, with violent crime down by 10%.

Mr Mawson met a Scottish parliamentary committee in June to discuss the controversial policing tactic.

He also announced a pilot scheme in Fife in which the parents of all children subject to stop and search would be given a letter explaining why.

Mr Mawson told the justice committee: "From here on in, we should not search young children who are under the age of consent.

"That must stop - that is the message that I will be putting out.

"However, we cannot delay - I am not going to wait six months for the Fife pilot to end because the current position is fairly indefensible."

Since the committee hearing, stop and searches on children have actually increased from 45 in July, to 74 in November.

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Police say the stop and search policy has led to a reduction in violent crime and antisocial disorder

Children were most often searched for weapons (288), alcohol (152) and stolen property (125) between January and November 2014.

A dozen searches for firearms resulted in the recovery of three weapons - one of the children was as young as eight.

The majority of searches on children took place in Wishaw and Motherwell (48), Govan and Craigton (43), and the southeast of Glasgow (42).

'We're just used to it': A stop search case study

Chloe Campbell was 11-years-old the first time she was stopped and searched.

Now 18, she is not sure why she was targeted by police in Glasgow.

"It might be just a group of young people out playing with their friends or playing football - doing things young people should be doing.

"I think they judge people by what they're wearing - like if they're wearing tracksuits, got their hoods up, or got a cap on.

"It makes me feel like, why did you just do that? I was just going somewhere and you just stopped and searched me for no reason.

"They just stopped me and started asking questions - they interrogate you, they patronise you."

Image caption Hundreds of young children like Chloe Campbell were stopped searched by Police Scotland in 2014

Chloe, who is now getting support from Who Cares Scotland, says she has been searched another four times since then, with officers coming up empty-handed each time.

The officers have never told her what they were looking for in the consensual searches.

"I think the police like stopping young people, and I think they get something out of it," claims Chloe.

She says a young person may get wound up, and then mouth off at, or assault, an officer.

"But it was the police's fault for stopping and searching them."

Chloe says she has have never bothered to complain.

"[Young people] are just used to it - it happens all the time."

Professor Alan Miller, chairman of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, told BBC Scotland that consensual stop searches should be abolished as they are "almost certainly unlawful."

He said: "Children are very vulnerable and they can't be expected to know what their rights are, or to be able to stand up for themselves.

"And it doesn't create a good relationship going forward between these young people and the police as they get older."

The data also revealed:

  • The most searches in 2014 were conducted in Glasgow (140,012), South Lanarkshire (36,796) and Renfrewshire (35,252);
  • Proportionally though, the most searches were conducted in Glasgow (2,362 per 10,000 people), Inverclyde (2,097 per 10,000 people) and Renfrewshire (2,070 per 10,000 people).
  • The fewest searches were conducted in the Western Isles (89);
  • The most searches were conducted in January (45,436), with a monthly average of 39,565;
  • Most searches were made for drugs (47%), alcohol (30%) and weapons (16%);
  • There were low detection rates for searches for weapons (5%) and drugs (14%);
  • A single officer in Inverclyde was responsible for conducting 1,641 searches with a 25% detection rate;
  • 84% of searches were conducted on males.

Assistant Chief Constable Nelson Telfer told BBC Scotland stop-search was a valuable tool in helping officers keep people safe.

He said: "Our data shows that a small number of under 12s were stop searched.

"Police officers will positively engage with young people and children and there are times when that engagement may move to a search which can result in the use of stop and search and often the removal of alcohol, cigarettes and other items.

"These interventions are vital in protecting the health and wellbeing of young people and children, and parents would expect us to remove alcohol and other harmful items from their children to keep them safe and prevent them becoming an offender or a victim."

He added: "Last year Police Scotland announced an undertaking to cease consensual searching of children less than 12 years of age. To support this decision, we have been reviewing searches of those aged between ages one and 11. This review is ongoing."

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