Getting arrested is an unpleasant experience for anyone. Some people, though, are especially vulnerable, and as such must be carefully treated even when taken into custody.
Let’s take one example. Patricia, a teenage girl with a mental health condition, got drunk and abusive outside a kebab shop. She ended up being arrested and taken to the police station. Here, the custody officer ordered that her clothing should be removed, as she was considered to be at risk of suicide. She was then forcibly stripped of all her clothes and dressed in a safety gown by three female officers. No one called her mother until after this had already happened, despite the fact that the law recognises to children who are being strip-searched the right to be assisted by a parent or another appropriate adult. The police later argued that this was perfectly fine, as Patricia had technically not been strip-searched but merely stripped for her safety.
Patricia, who had in the past been victim of sexual abuse, was deeply distressed by the whole experience and brought forward a case against the police, arguing that her right to privacy had been violated. Some children’s rights’ charities intervened in the trial to support her claim and stress the position of vulnerability of children in police’s custody. Patricia ultimately lost her case but the judges expressed their concern for the treatment she was subjected to and made the point that there is no distinction whatsoever between a strip-search and a mere strip, which means the same protection must apply to both. And, Patricia’s case has sparkled a debate on the importance of adequately protecting children in custody: a report on the welfare of such subjects has been published by the police and the Ministry of Justice has reviewed the use of strip search on children in prison.