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Strip Searches

Volume 115: debated on Thursday 7 May 1987

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asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will make a statement on the circumstances in which Mrs. Jean Warrington was strip-searched by customs officers at Gatwick airport during the first week of April; what is the policy of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise towards the use of strip searches; what guidelines are given to customs officers on the procedures for strip searches; with particular reference to the treatment of pregnant women; and as to the sex of the officers who carried out the search; and if he will make a statement.

[pursuant to his reply, 6 May 1987]: No. Individual clearances of passengers and their baggage are dealt with on a confidential basis. Passengers may be searched by customs officers under the provisions of the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979 where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that dutiable, prohibited or restricted goods are being carried, or by virtue of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Application to Customs and Excise) Order 1985 under which the relevant provisions of the latter Act are applied directly to the activities of customs officers. With certain specific exceptions (eg Heads of State and accredited diplomats) any passenger is liable to be searched provided there are reasonable grounds.Customs officers are required, and trained, to carry out all such searches professionally and with tact and courtesy. Female passengers may not be searched by or in the presence of male officers and internal examinations can only be undertaken by a qualified medical practitioner.