Written 1st July 2014 by Olliers Solicitors

More than 1,000 children under the age of 10, with some as young as four, have been stopped and searched by the police in England and Wales over the past five years, according to official figures released. The figures released by 22 police forces to a parliamentary inquiry show that 1,136 children under the age of criminal responsibility, being 10 years old, were the subject of stop and search procedures between 2009 and 2013.

More than one million stop and searches were carried out on children under 18 across 26 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales in the same period. In some forces the use of stop and search against young people accounted for up to 28% of all stops recorded by the force.

Scottish Police

Last week Scottish police announced they would no longer subject children under the age of 12 to “consensual” stop and searches. In England and Wales police forces told the parliamentary inquiry that it was on occasion necessary to stop and search under 10s as they could be used to conceal drugs or other illegal items by adults.

The total of 1,136 children under 10 subjected to stop and searches excludes figures for the Metropolitan police in London. Such force could not provide full figures for the period 2009 to 2013 however indicated it had recorded 136 stops between 2011 and 2013. Six of them astonishingly involved children under the age of five.

Lady Massey of Darwen, who chairs the parliamentary group, said:

“We were surprised to find that despite the fact that so many children are being stopped and searched by the police there is no practice guidance to inform how to deal with children, particularly those who are young and vulnerable.”

“The police need to be sure they do not see children as small adults and do more to ensure they always adopt an age appropriate response to every child.”

Protection for Young People

Amongst a number of recommendations, the inquiry suggested the police should always record the date of birth of the person being searched and should have separate custody areas specifically for children and young people. The inquiry found that at present only  118 out of 292 custody suites (40%) had separate areas for young people.

Commander Adrian Hanstock, the Association of Chief Police Officers’ spokesman on stop and search procedures commented that the statistics collected from some police forces showed that an increasing proportion of stop and searches were carried out on young people:

“The reality is that young adults are disproportionately represented as both victims of crime and offenders.

“A recording error that gave the person a default age of zero when no address was entered has led to an inaccurate figure of children under 10 years old who were allegedly searched. In the genuine cases, children are often stopped because of intelligence that they are being exploited by adults, including gang members, to carry drugs, weapons or get involved in other criminal activity.”

Commander Hanstock indicated that the police would consider the recommendations published today by the all party group to ensure they were only stopping children and young people when there was a real requirement to do so and that they were dealt with in a sensitive and appropriate manner.

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