Child Q: Without commitments to institutional reform, Met apologies are just reputation management – Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP


‘It seems to have escaped both the Government and the Met leadership’s notice that we are going through a major crisis of confidence in policing.’

Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP

By Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP

The Met were recently forced to apologise to a child they strip-searched after wrongly suspecting her of carrying cannabis. They walked into her place of safety at the behest of the teachers tasked with keeping her safe, stripped her naked while she was on her period and forced her to remove her sanitary towel, spread her legs, part her buttock cheeks and cough. They didn’t find any drugs.

The violation of Child Q is the latest in a long string of revelations of police brutality: from the rape and murder of my constituent Sarah Everard to the brutal strip search of Dr Koshka Duff at Stoke Newington Police Station. It’s another story that highlights the racism young black people still face at the hands of the police.

A recent FOI request revealed that the Met strip searched 5,279 children in the past three years alone. 75% of them from ethnic minority backgrounds. Looked at another way, that means three of the four children going through this ordeal every single day in our city are from ethnic minority backgrounds. Sixteen of the children searched were aged just 10-12.

When I led an Urgent Question on the strip searching of Child Q, the Policing Minister suggested that it was still unclear whether this was a one-off or part of a wider pattern. When I raised this in response to the Government’s pathetic Race Action Plan, I was told in even more uncertain terms by the Equalities Minister: “we cannot […] stop any bad thing happening to anyone in the country at any time”.


The denial is real. It extends right across the upper echelons of the establishment. Look at the Government’s blind defence of the status quo in policing and the police’s blind defence of the status quo and you could be forgiven for thinking that the real function of the police is about protecting the powerful and privileged.

It took Child Q two years to get so much as an apology. It took Dr Duff nine years. Rather than acknowledging what happened, police tried classic discredit and disappear tactics, slapping her with spurious charges of obstructing and assaulting police officers and tried to cover it up. Too often when confronted with abuses of power, the Met’s reflex has been to try and make the charges disappear rather than recognising that they have a problem. You only have to look at how they handle accusations and complaints levelled against their own officers. 80% of the 1,300 police officers and staff accused of domestic abuse are still serving in their roles.

There were 300 complaints of racism from 2017 to 2021. During that same period, just four of 76 upheld complaints resulted in dismissals. It’s pretty clear that officers are not being held to account for their actions. When internal racism is being tolerated in this way, is it really surprising that it is being reproduced in interactions with the general public?

It seems to have escaped both the Government and the Met leadership’s notice that we are going through a major crisis of confidence in policing. As the MP for Streatham, which is in Lambeth, I represent an area in the borough with the lowest level of expressed confidence in the police anywhere in London. Just 45 per cent of people in Lambeth believe that police treat everyone fairly regardless of who they are, down from 77 per cent four years ago when Cressida Dick took the reins.

Just the same percentage agree with the statement that the police are doing a good job more generally. The crisis of confidence in policing across London is intrinsically linked to an increased awareness that prejudice and discrimination are not aberrations in policing but a general rule. Met leadership can apologise all they want but without action to back it up, nobody’s going to believe them anymore.

Cressida Dick’s departure will be meaningless if she is not replaced by someone who recognises the wholesale failings within the Met and is committed to overhauling them. London needs a Met Commissioner who doesn’t just understand that the police are institutionally racist and sexist but is committed to taking action to address them.
As a bare minimum, the Met needs to overhaul the way it vets officers and create an internal culture where racism and other forms of discrimination result in meaningful sanctions. As well as better training within the force, we need much more stringent policies when officers are investigated for internal complaints and general crimes.

There also needs to be a recognition that police are public servants and need to behave as such. That requires a much clearer focus on community policing. When women wanted to come together to mourn Sarah Everard, Lambeth Borough officers recognised the need to balance the needs of our community against the regulations. They were overruled from the top of the Scotland Yard and the top of Government and left to deal with the fallout.

There’s also clearly a need to overhaul police search culture. Last September, a thirteen-year-old boy who goes to school in my constituency came away from a particularly heavy-handed stop and search with bleeding wrists and a swollen eye. His only crime? Carrying an afro comb.

One in five young men from an ethnic minority background has been stopped and searched. Stop and search rose massively during lockdown, increasing by 24% in the year to November 2021. With so few of these searches resulting in a positive outcome, it’s very clear that random stop and search is a blunt instrument, which has become largely counter-productive. Instead of ramping these powers up in their Policing Bill by creating a new stop and search duty on protesters, the Government should review the policy – as MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group proposed at the time – and scrap random stop and search.

Above all, we need to ask ourselves why it is that Tory policies ramping up inequality are almost always accompanied by policies ramping up police powers. That, and why they choose to do this instead of funding tried and tested solutions that might actually tackle the complex social causes of crime: whether it’s reversing cuts and investing in services for young people and women’s refuges, tackling the blight of poverty and inequality, or ending the scourge of school exclusions.



  • Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP is the Labour MP for Streatham and Co-Chair of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs
  • You can follow Bell on facebook, instagram and twitter

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