Children as young as 12 are being strip searched by police, an investigation by Newsquest has revealed.

Figures obtained via Freedom of Information requests to Cambridgeshire Police show hundreds of children under the age of 18-years-old have been subject to a strip search in the last six years.

According to the figures, 317 strip searches have been performed on children between 16-17-years-old since 2018, with 92 involving children aged between 14-15 and four on children aged between 12-13.

It comes as a report by Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel de Souza found 2,847 children were strip-searched in England and Wales from 2018 to mid-2022.

The report was commissioned in the wake of the Child Q scandal, which came to light in March 2022 and sparked national outcry.

Child Q, a 15-year-old girl, was strip-searched at school by two female Metropolitan Police officers while on her period and without an appropriate adult present.

Louise King, co-lead of Just for Kids Law said: “These findings are extremely worrying, particularly given that in the majority of cases the strip-search resulted in nothing being found.

“This begs the question why did Cambridgeshire Police officers think that a strip-search was necessary in the first place, especially when it is well known how traumatic they are for children.”

The figures show that during more than half of the 413 strip searches conducted over the last six years nothing unlawful was found.

Meanwhile, 110 searches led to a positive result, while the outcome of 23 were either inconclusive, not recorded or are not yet known.

King added: “We want the government to roll-out alternative technologies so that children need not be subjected to traumatic strip-searches. 

“In the meantime, urgent action must be taken by Cambridgeshire police to ensure that the strip-searching of children is only used in very exceptional circumstances and that racial disproportionality in the policing of children is fully addressed.”

The procedures and principles that police must follow to conduct strip searches legally are outline in Code A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Strip searches involve the removing of more than just outer clothing including a coat, gloves, or socks, and can only be conducted if there is reasonable suspicion that a suspect has concealed an illegal item.

Children aged 17 or under must have an appropriate adult present during a strip search and officers are required to make every reasonable effort to minimise the embarrassment an individual may experience.

Last month, the Independent Office for Police Conduct published ten nationwide recommendations aimed at improving practice across England and Wales around strip searches of children.

It follows the watchdog’s call for a substantial review of policing powers to improve the safeguarding of children following the inconsistent use of appropriate adults when strip searching children.

A spokesperson for Cambridgeshire Constabulary said: “All strip searches need the authorisation of a sergeant, independent of the investigation, before they can proceed, and will be carried out either because an individual has been arrested for an offence and a search is then authorised once in custody.

“This could be for a variety of reasons such as their behaviour at point of arrest or there being known markers or information about the concealment of weapons or drugs. Also, if clothing is removed to protect the individual this is also recorded as a strip search.

They added: “As a force we understand the impact that a strip search has on an individual, and their privacy, and we do not undertake such searches lightly.

“Strict policies and procedures are in place to make sure each search is necessary and proportionate to the investigation, and strict control and review measures are in place to make sure standards are upheld.”