The senior officer condemned the three police officers (two men and a woman) who ordered 32 students to strip, squat and cough as they were body-searched at the school on Tuesday.
The students’ rights were breached, he said as he referred to guidelines, set in 1964 by the English courts, on how to search, question and gather evidence which are known as Judges’ Rules.
If an investigation requires a child to be interviewed this must be done in the presence of a parent or guardian, said the senior officer.
“According to the Judges’ Rules, which we officers have access to, children under the age of 18 years should be interviewed, and in this case stripped and searched or interrogated in the presence of a parent, guardian or another adult of the same sex of the child not by another police officer,” the source said.
The interrogation of children should not be done at a school either, he said, and advised that the St Joseph College students had a right to have a family member or even legal counsel present at the school on Tuesday.
Newsday obtained a copy of the Judges Rules which, under the heading “Interrogation of children and young persons” states: “As far as practicable children (whether suspected of crime or not) should only be interviewed in the presence of a parent or guardian, or, in their absence, some person who is not a police officer and is of the same sex as the child.”
The Judges Rules further states, “A child or young person should not be arrested, nor even interviewed, at school if such action can possibly be avoided. Where it is found essential to conduct the interview at school, this should be done only with the consent, and in the presence, of the head teacher, or his nominee.”
The senior officer referred to a similar incident which occurred in November 28, 2008 when seven women working in the police administration building in San Fernando were also strip-searched over an allegation that $2,000 in cash was missing from a handbag.
“This same type of search of seven women working in the police administration building in San Fernando. These women, like the schoolchildren, were not informed of their legal rights and if they were suspects in a crime they were not given the opportunity to consult with their legal representative, friend or family member. They were strip-searched and made to squat and cough while naked. Just like this incident no money was recovered and subsequently Acting Police Commissioner James Philbert ordered an investigation after meeting with the seven women,” said the officer.
Parents of the 32 students remained up in arms over the controversial search when they attended a meeting at the school yesterday.
Newsday was told principal Kester De Verteuil apologised to parents and several students at the meeting which began at about 3 pm.
One parent who attended the meeting told Newsday more than 25 parents and several of the students who were strip-searched along with two teachers, members of the school board and a Ministry of Education representative were present.
She said De Verteuil assured them the incident would never be repeated again, should another complaint arise, and said he never thought the action would have caused such publicity and distress for the students.
While she accepted De Verteuil’s apology, the parent felt the police should apologise too.
“I do not feel that justice was served and I am still calling on the police to issue an apology for their strip-search of minors on Tuesday.”
She said because she is not in a financial position to explore the matter legally she will write to Philbert on the matter. She said since Tuesday her daughter continues to suffer from stress and is undergoing counselling. Another parent said yesterday his daughter has been crying constantly.
One of the parents interviewed by Newsday said the student who reported $1,400 was stolen from her school bag and her parents were absent from yesterday’s meeting.
At the meeting, two teachers said this student was a model student and they did not believe she made up a story about the money being stolen.
One teacher also accused some of the students who were searched of being repeat offenders of school pranks.
On Wednesday, De Verteuil issued a statement supporting the action taken by the St Joseph police to strip-search the 32 students.
The 32 students were at the school at about 2 pm on Tuesday when three police officers entered their classroom and searched their school bags. The male students were taken to one room and the females to another room where they were ordered to strip naked, squat and cough as the officers carried out a search for the missing $1,400.
President of the National Parent Teachers Association Zina Ramatali condemned the strip-search and called on the Ministry of Education to carry out a full scale probe into the matter.
Yesterday, president of the Association of Principals of Secondary Schools Angela Iloo said she believed De Verteuil thought it was in the best interest of the student who complained about the missing money to have her report the matter to the police.
However Iloo, principal of Holy Faith Convent, said there were guidelines set out by the Education Ministry which De Verteuil should have followed.
“I understood the position of the principal and his need to satisfy the affected student but at the same time there is a normal routine for us to take with regards to conducting a search. I guess everybody does things differently,” Iloo said.
The ministry’s guidelines on discipline indicate that for serious offences such as firearms and drug possession or assault a report must be made to the police and the ministry.
It does address the question of police interviews and searches of students at schools.
Iloo also said parents must avoid giving large sums of money to their children
“I wish that parents not give their children who are in school large sums of money because the school does not have the facility to secure or to protect that student,” she said.