An academic who was subjected to a degrading and violent strip search by Metropolitan Police officers at Stoke Newington police station has received an apology for the ‘unacceptable’ behaviour’, eight years after the event
In May, 2013, Dr Konstancia Duff was arrested for offering a “know your rights” card to a 15-year-old boy involved in a stop and search on an estate in Hackney.
Officers claimed Duff had obstructed and assaulted them and she was arrested and taken to Stoke Newington police station. She was later acquitted of all charges.
On her Crowd Justice page, Duff described what happened at the station: “I was pinned to the floor of a cell by three female officers. I had my hands cuffed behind my back and my legs tied together while they cut off my clothes with scissors. They ripped out my earrings, grabbed my breasts roughly while turning me over, and even touched me between my legs, apparently looking for genital piercings. During the search, I could hear them talking with male officers who were standing by the open door.”
The officers’ derogatory comments including “treat her like a terrorist, I don’t care” and “What’s that smell? Oh, it’s her knickers” were caught on station CCTV.
In footage carried by the Guardian, police officers can be heard to say of Dr Duff “was she rank?” and “her clothes stink”.
With the help of lawyers, Duff pursued an assault and battery charge under Article 3 of the Human Rights Act 1998, the right to “freedom from torture, inhumane and degrading treatment”.
At the time of the incident, Duff was a 24-year-old master’s student. She wrote: “I was non-compliant because I felt the police were behaving like bullies.”
Duff, now a lecturer in social and political philosophy at the University of Nottingham, updated her Crowd Justice fundraiser on January 25 to say: “Towards the end of last year, I received £6,000 compensation and a letter from the MPS (Metropolitan Police Service) in which they “sincerely and unreservedly apologise’ for the ‘sexist, derogatory and unacceptable language used about [me]’ by officers.”
The letter from Inspector Andy O’Donnell from the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards reads: “I have considered the background to your claim and am satisfied that on this occasion the level of service did fall below the requisite standard. I would like to take this opportunity to sincerely and unreservedly apologise for the sexist derogatory and unacceptable language used about you and for any upset and distress this may have caused.”
Duff told BBC’s Woman’s Hour: “I don’t see how stripping me would reveal my identity in any way apart from they wanted to soften me up, to kind of intimidate me into telling them my details, and to punish me for standing up for a young person’s rights.”
“They called me childish. When I was being arrested, I was called a ‘very silly girl’. The sexism of the way they were treating me was really obvious at the time. I guess it was very dehumanising language.”
Duff said: “The process of going through this complaints procedure – I’ve just felt like I’ve been on trial for eight years… I’ve just experienced a barrage of victim blaming and gas lighting.”
Her Crowd Justice post explained: “This offer was our only viable option as we would have needed to raise a further £11,424 for insurance to cover the case to trial. As part of the settlement, the police will also be liable for the past eight years’ legal costs.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said what had happened was “utterly disgraceful”.
He tweeted: “I strongly condemn the derogatory and sexist actions towards Dr Duff. The Met are right to have apologised for this appalling incident. Women in our city must be able to trust the police.”
The Met said it had “sincerely apologised”, when asked about the incident involving Dr Duff, and that an investigation into allegations of misconduct is ongoing.
In a statement, the force said: “In November 2021, the Met settled a claim following the arrest of a woman in Hackney in May 2013. We have sincerely apologised to the complainant for the language used while she was in custody and any distress caused.
“Following the conclusion of the civil claim, allegations of misconduct relating to these comments were referred to our Directorate of Professional Standards and are currently being investigated.
“This investigation remains ongoing.”
Eastlondonlines have approached Duff for comment but have not yet received a response.
The £10,470 Duff raised to hold police accountable for arbitrary and degrading strip searches will be redistributed to another Crowd Justice cause.