Police Scotland stopped and searched 3,000 children

Police searching youth Image copyright Getty Images

Police stopped and searched more than 3,000 children in 15 months, BBC Scotland has learned.

Analysis of police data shows that officers found nothing in almost two thirds of cases.

And the youngest person to be stopped and searched was a seven-year-old girl who officers suspected to be in possession of drugs.

Police Scotland insist the rules and guidelines relating to stop and searches were adhered to in all cases.

A code of practice on stop and search came in to force in May 2017, following concerns over the number of people being searched without a legal basis.

It states that stopping and searching must be done for a good reason and be both "necessary and proportionate".

Officers can search based on "facts, information and/or intelligence" or "reasonable suspicion" someone is carrying an illegal item.

The data reveals that 3,172 searches were carried out on children aged 0-15 between April 2018 and June 2019 - and 62% were negative.

It also shows:

  • Officers failed to find drugs on a seven-year-old girl who was stopped in Clackmannanshire in June 2019 under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
  • An 11-year-old boy was found to be carrying a firearm in East Lothian in November 2018. He was stopped under the Firearms Act 1968. The BBC understands this turned out to be a BB gun.
  • 244 negative searches were done in North Lanarkshire
  • 51 negative searches were conducted on George Street in Aberdeen
  • 81% of searches involved a male
Image caption Fiona Dyer said children needed to be protected

Fiona Dyer, of the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice at the University of Strathclyde, said children could be exploited, coerced or threatened to act criminally by people they trust.

"This a form of abuse and exploitation that these children need to be protected from," she added.

"So when we hear of primary school-aged children as young as seven involved in what could be classed as serious offending, it is clear that this is a child protection matter and should be responded to as such.

"These children are victims of other people's actions and there is nothing to be gained by dealing with them in a criminal way.

"In recognition of this, the Scottish government are including child criminal exploitation in their new child protection guidelines, as they are aware this is placing some children at risk and having detrimental impacts on their lives that they need protected from."

A row erupted in 2014 after BBC data revealed 2,912 searches were carried out on children aged eight to 12 between April and December 2013.

The force now routinely publishes information on its website.

A total of 50,598 stop and search incidents were recorded by police across Scotland between April 2018 and June 2019. Seventy formal complaints were lodged with the force during that period.

'Lawful, necessary and proportionate'

Supt Ian Thomson, of Police Scotland, said the stop and search code of practice had a dedicated section for children which provided guidance for officers.

"All searches carried out are subject to governance and review in line with scrutiny arrangements to confirm they comply with the code of practice being lawful, necessary and proportionate," he added.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said: "While stop and search is a valuable tool in combating crime and keeping people safe, we must ensure a balance between protecting the public and recognising the rights of individuals."

She added that the code of practice and its use was a matter for Police Scotland, but added that "it has been designed to ensure searches are carried out with fairness, integrity and respect and contains specific guidance on searches of children and young people.

"This means police must have the child's well-being as a primary consideration in deciding whether to proceed and, where that is necessary, to conduct searches in a way that minimises potential distress."

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