3rd September 2018

A police officer who authorised the strip search of an academic because she would not disclose her name whilst in police custody has been cleared by a disciplinary panel of misconduct.

Konstancja Duff, a lecturer in political philosophy at Nottingham University, had been arrested in May 2013 after trying to hand a legal advice card to a 15-year-old who was subject to a stop-and-search. It is reported she refused to speak to officers other than to ask for a doctor and so because she would not disclose details about herself Sergeant Kurtis Howard of the Metropolitan Police told her that she would be strip searched. She was then taken to a cell where three female officers subjected her to a strip search.

Sergeant Howard had been facing the possibility of a finding of gross misconduct over claims that his order to search Konstancja Duffwas a breach of the police standards of professional behaviour. However, last week halfway through the hearing the disciplinary panel decided the officer had no case to answer.

The finding of no case to answer against Sergeant Howards came after his representative argued that the search was justified by Konstancja Duff’s refusal to cooperate with officers which meant they were unable carry out a proper risk assessment.

Maurice Cohen, who chaired the panel, said:

Sergeant Howard was running a busy custody suite and his primary responsibility was the safety of the staff and detainees and [he] must run a continuous risk assessment….He must consider the demeanour of a detainee, their vulnerability and whether they pose a risk to themselves or others and he was unable to ascertain from Dr Duff whether she suffered from any mental illness, other vulnerability or whether she was on drugs.

Whilst each case is fact sensitive the outcome of this case seemingly illustrates that officers faced with a situation whereby a detained person refuses to provide their name can be justified in authorising a strip search to be conducted so as to allow a risk assessment to be completed. This case raises important questions regarding the balance which needs to be achieved between the exercise of police powers, ensuring a safe custody environment and protecting the rights of detained persons in custody. One thing is for certain this will not be the last time a case such as this arises.

Blog by Andrew Freckleton, Solicitor