Hold police accountable for arbitrary and degrading strip searches

by Koshka Duff

Hold police accountable for arbitrary and degrading strip searches

by Koshka Duff
Koshka Duff
Case Owner
I am a lecturer in social and political philosophy at the University of Nottingham. At the time of this incident, I was a Masters student in London.
on 26th October 2019
pledged of £18,438 stretch target from 432 pledges
Koshka Duff
Case Owner
I am a lecturer in social and political philosophy at the University of Nottingham. At the time of this incident, I was a Masters student in London.

Latest: Jan. 25, 2022

Huge thanks for your solidarity against strip search abuse

Hello again and Happy New Year!

I am writing to update you on my case and say a huge thanks for your incredible solidarity.

Towards the end of last year, I received £6,000 compensation and a lett…

Read more

Police subjected me to a violent and degrading strip search after I was arrested for offering a legal advice card to a 15-year-old who was being stopped and searched. 

With the help of my lawyers, I am seeking to bring civil proceedings against the Metropolitan Police in relation to the unlawful strip search. I am pursuing a claim of assault & battery and under the Human Rights Act 1998 for breaches of Articles 3 (the right to freedom from torture, inhuman and degrading treatment) and 8 (the right to private life) of the European Convention of Human Rights. 

This is the only legal channel left open to me after six years of engaging with the police complaints system. Although my complaint was eventually upheld by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the resulting gross misconduct hearing against the custody sergeant who ordered my strip search was a farce. The misconduct panel dismissed the case against Sergeant Howard without even bothering to question him.

The Misconduct Panel’s logic would mean that anyone suspected of having a mental health problem could be forcibly stripped naked.

I fear that the way the police have closed ranks in response to my complaint points to a broader problem regarding the abuse of strip search powers to punish and intimidate people. Most of the people who suffer this abuse will be denied any opportunity to speak out.

Please help me draw attention to this issue and hold police accountable by sharing this page on social media and contributing if you can.

My case against the police is strong. However, bringing a civil action against them will expose me to a massive financial risk. The default position in civil proceedings is that the loser pays the legal costs of the winner, and the police’s legal costs are likely to be enormous. This is a further way in which the system is stacked against members of the public trying to hold police accountable.

I have been offered After the Event Insurance (“ATE”) insurance to cover me against these costs risks, on the basis that my case is likely to succeed. However, the outcome in civil proceedings is never certain. This means I cannot realistically proceed with the case unless I am insured against the financial risk of losing.

I will need to raise at least £3,920 to pay the premium required to secure the first stage of ATE insurance. I will then need to continue raising funds as the case progresses to cover Court fees and extensions of the ATE insurance protection. 

My legal case 


On a Spring evening in 2013, I was on an estate in Hackney, East London, when I saw a group of police officers surrounding a young boy. The boy was clearly distressed and asking for his mother. I had noticed police stopping other black people on the estate and I was aware that racial profiling by the police is a serious problem,* so I was concerned by what I was seeing.

I spoke with the boy and tried to give him a ‘Know Your Rights’ card with some legal advice on it, but the police officers stopped me by grabbing my arm and pushing me back. They then arrested me, claiming I had obstructed and assaulted them, although this was untrue.

The officer in charge described me as a ‘bleeding heart lefty’ and ‘some sort of socialist’ as well as a ‘very silly girl’. 

I was later acquitted of all charges.

The magistrates found that I had not obstructed the police and they explicitly stated in their judgement, ‘We believe Ms Duff’s account’ in relation to the alleged assaults.

The boy was found to have a knife on him which I had not been aware of when I intervened.

During my arrest and transfer to Stoke Newington Police Station I acted in the spirit of ‘passive resistance’: I went limp rather than walking and I did not talk to the police except to ask for a doctor.

I was non-compliant because I felt the police were behaving like bullies. I wanted to show that I did not consent to what they were doing.

Strip search

On arriving at the police station, I was subjected to a strip search which was brutal and traumatic.

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.  

I sustained injuries including cuts and bruises on my arms and hands and a five-inch cut on my collarbone.

The officers also made mocking comments, some of which were caught on CCTV and noted as inappropriate by the IOPC report.

When the officers had me completely naked, they put me in a paper suit which didn’t do up properly, so my breasts were partly exposed, and they carried me like that through the station.

I believe Sergeant Howard ordered this strip search simply in order to punish me for my passive resistance and for standing up for the rights of the boy who was being stopped and searched – in short, for being a ‘bleeding heart lefty’ – and to intimidate me into providing my details. He had absolutely no reason to suspect I had any weapons or drugs on me, and none were found.

Police Complaint 

I initially submitted a complaint against the Metropolitan Police in respect of the strip search. The Metropolitan Police’s investigation into my complaint took several years and was thoroughly inadequate.

Subsequently, the IOPC investigated what had happened and concluded that Sergeant Howard should face a disciplinary hearing for gross misconduct. The IOPC report laid out in detail why Sergeant Howard had a case to answer and what issues the hearing would need to question him about.**

However, halfway through the hearing, which took place in August, the Panel appointed by the Metropolitan Police accepted an argument by Sergeant Howard's defence barrister that his client had no case to answer.

The Panel Chair, Maurice Cohen, said there were ‘reasonable grounds justifying Sgt Howard's actions in authorising a strip search’ on the basis that he did not know my identity or whether I was mentally ill.

The Panel came to this decision without even hearing evidence from Sergeant Howard or putting to him any of the questions laid out in the IOPC report. The Chair also got many of the facts of the case wrong when he tried to summarise them.

Overall the police complaints process was woefully inadequate did not lead to any real accountability on the part of the officers involved or the Metropolitan Police.

Civil claim

I have already taken preliminary steps to pursue civil proceedings against the police. I sent a ‘letter of claim’ to the police which set out the basis of my claim. They responded with a denial of liability, in which they threatened to pursue me for their legal costs if I were to issue my claim at Court. This shows the police are aware of the risks that victims face when challenging them in the Courts and are seeking to take advantage of this in order to avoid accountability.

I issued a claim against the Metropolitan Police at Central London County Court on 2 May 2019. However, I will struggle to proceed further with the claim without ATE insurance given the considerable financial risk of doing so.

What is the next step?

The initial £3,920 will enable us to pay the first premium required to secure ATE insurance. This will enable me to proceed with the civil action. The police will be unable to use the threat of an adverse costs order as a tactic to avoid accountability. 

The aim is to proceed with the action until the police acknowledge that I was subjected to an unlawful strip search. 

Thank you for reading. I have carried on fighting this case because I want to do everything I can to tackle the culture of impunity around police strip search abuse.  Please help me by donating what you can and sharing my page with friends and family, on social media or by email.  


*For instance, a 2013 report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary found that almost a third of stop and searches were conducted without sufficient grounds  and it is still the case that black people are 8 times more likely to be stopped than white people.

**The IOPC report also found that two other officers in my case had behaved inappropriately – the officer in charge when I was arrested and one of the officers who strip searched me. These officers were subject to lower level disciplinary measures and did not face misconduct hearings.

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Update 3

Koshka Duff

Jan. 25, 2022

Huge thanks for your solidarity against strip search abuse

Hello again and Happy New Year!

I am writing to update you on my case and say a huge thanks for your incredible solidarity.

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 full apology is included in this article published yesterday with Novara Media. 

Accepting 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.

Any money you contributed to my Crowdfunder that was not used will be redistributed to another Crowd Justice cause (as per their policy). I will update you once it has been confirmed what cause(s) will be supported.

A significant factor in the police’s U-turn was the CCTV from Stoke Newington police station that we were finally able to obtain from them after years of obstruction. 

The footage (included in this article and video by The Guardian) shows officers joking about finding ‘a lot of hair’ during my strip search, discussing whether my body was ‘rank’, and suggesting they might detain me for days beyond the legal time limit.

PS Howard, the custody sergeant who ordered my strip search and whose case was dismissed by the misconduct panel in 2018, is heard instructing the officers conducting the search: ‘Tell them to put their back into it, do I have to come and do it? … Resistance is futile… By any means necessary, treat her like a terrorist, I don’t care’

I believe the CCTV reveals a culture of misogyny, sexualised mockery and contempt for the law and the public that were absolutely evident while I was in the station.

Getting to this point in challenging their behaviour would have been impossible without your support and I’m immensely grateful.

The main motivation for carrying on with my case has been the public attention we can draw to the problems of police abuse of strip search powers and the (often racialised, classed, and ableist) sexual violence that is endemic in policing. My experience is just one small example.

I have also written about my case, and what I believe it shows about policing more broadly, in my introduction to the edited collection Abolishing the Police (Dog Section Press, 2021). It was a joy and an honour to work with the other contributors to the volume and I strongly recommend their pieces to you.

A list of linked resources is included below. Please share with anyone who might be interested.

Massive thanks again for your solidarity!



My article on Novara - https://novaramedia.com/2022/01/24/the-met-just-apologised-for-strip-searching-me-i-dont-believe-a-word-of-it/

Guardian article and video - https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2022/jan/24/met-apologises-to-academic-for-sexist-derogatory-language

Duff, Koshka (ed.), 2021. Abolishing the Police. Dog Section Press. https://dogsection.org/press/abolishing-the-police/

Duff, Koshka & Katharine Jenkins, 2021. ‘More Policing Won’t Stop Gendered Violence’. Verso Blog. https://www.versobooks.com/blogs/5094-more-policing-won-t-stop-gendered-violence

Update 2

Koshka Duff

Jan. 5, 2021

New stretch target to cover case all the way to court.

Wow, thank you so much! 

I'm simply blown away that after yesterday's update we've already raised the £7560 needed immediately to continue the case. As explained in that update, the only remaining costs are the £11, 424 final insurance premium that will be due 45 days before trial. 

This means the new stretch target of £18,434 is to cover the case all the way.

Of course, we hope the police will shift their position before we have to pay the final premium. However, they are significantly more likely to start being reasonable if they see that we have the resources to take this case all the way to court.

So that is why we are aiming to raise the money now.

Your help in sharing the page, talking to people about the issue, and donating if you're able is still massively appreciated. 

Thanks again for all your incredible support so far! It means a huge amount to me and, more importantly, helps challenge the culture of impunity in the police that allows them to subject people to this violent and degrading practice on a daily basis.


Update 1

Koshka Duff

Jan. 4, 2021

Police refuse to admit wrongdoing. Your support needed to take case to trial.

UPDATE: Case proceeding towards trial. Need to raise £7560 by 31st Jan 2021.

Thanks so much to everyone who has supported this case so far.

Our attempt to challenge arbitrary and degrading strip searches is now reaching a crucial stage. Despite the fact that the police have not been able to respond satisfactorily to any of the issues raised in my claim, they are refusing to admit liability. We are now facing the prospect of the case going to trial. 

The positive side of this is that it gives us a chance to raise the problem of police abuse of strip search powers in a court of law, which is a public forum. The downside of going to trial is that it is very costly. 

To get the chance to hold the police accountable at trial, we need to make two further insurance payments:

  • The second premium, due immediately (Jan 2021) of £3,640
  • The final premium, due 45 days before trial, of £11, 424.

Adding this to the premium of £3,920 we have already paid, the total costs of taking the case to trial would be £18,438. However, we are hopeful that the police will reconsider their position before we have to pay the final premium. 

Without insurance at this point, however, we cannot take the case any further as we would risk having to pay tens of thousands of pounds if we lost. 

We therefore need at least £7560 (our new stretch target) by the end of January.

Given that their case is weak, the police are clearly relying on these costs being so intimidating that we give up the fight. I hope that together we can raise this money to push back against strip search abuse and the culture of unaccountable policing more broadly.

Please consider donating if you can and sharing with others who might be interested. 

Thanks very much again for supporting the crowdfunder, for all your kind messages, and most of all for spreading the word about this issue, which affects so many people on a daily basis who never have the opportunity to speak out about it.


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