17/03/2014 05:32 GMT | Updated 17/03/2014 05:59 GMT

Metropolitan Police Strip-Searched 4,500 Children In Five Years

Andrew Matthews/EMPICS Sport
Met officers strip searched just over 134,000 people between 2009 and 2014

More than 4,500 children have been strip searched by the Metropolitan Police over the last five years, figures show.

Some 4,638 children between the ages of 10 and 16 were asked to remove their clothes before being searched by police between April 2008 and the end of 2013. Around a third of them were then released without charge.

The figures were obtained by the Guardian under the Freedom of Information Act.

They also show that Met officers strip searched just over 134,000 people between 2009 and 2014, of whom 10.5% were females and 3.5% were children.

Last year 803 children had to undergo the procedure, compared with 683 in 2009 and 990 in 2010, the newspaper said.

A strip search involves a suspect being required to remove some or all of their clothing and can require searches of body cavities, including intimate areas.

Sophie Khan, legal director of Police Action Centre, a charity advising people on their rights when pursuing action against the police, said it was "disturbing" that the Met routinely conducted strip searches on young children.

She told the Guardian: "Strip searching is an inhuman and degrading experience and children should not be subjected to such treatment unless there is no other feasible method to detect crime available to the police."

In a statement the Met said there had been an 18% drop in the number of strip searches of juveniles since a peak in 2010, and denied that such searches of children had become "routine".

The Met said regular inspections of its custody suites and records were carried out by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabularies and Prisons, which found the use of strip search to be "proportionate and appropriate".

A spokesman said: "The justification for a strip search must be recorded on the custody record by the custody officer, the search must be conducted by at least two officers of the same gender as the detainee and the Metropolitan Police Service custody toolkit directs that the search must be supervised by the custody officer (gender permitting)."

He added: "Strip searching is a vital power in police custody not only to identify and seize evidence but also to ensure the safety and security of all detainees and staff.

"Each search must be based on an objective assessment of the need and proportionality to search the person to that extent. Legal safeguards are applied to ensure the welfare needs of the detainee are considered and met."

The Met added that those under 18 or who are mentally vulnerable must have an appropriate adult present during the search, unless an urgent search is conducted due to the risk of serious harm, or the person objects to the presence of the appropriate adult and the adult agrees.