Birmingham: Woman says she was

“They were like savages,” says Sinead Foley, 37, who was strip searched by police in Birmingham in November last year.

She is among several viewers who have contacted Sky News with allegations of abuse in custody by different police forces, following our investigation into Greater Manchester Police.

Sinead was arrested and later released without charge but left with traumatic memories of her time in custody.

Using a subject access request, she has obtained some of the CCTV of her time in the cell, which shows her being undressed on the floor by female officers.

“It just felt like they could violate me, and they’re allowed to do it,” she said.

“You can see I’m compliant, so there’s no need to be dragging people’s clothes off forcibly. It’s totally inhumane.”

Sky News has not seen all the footage and Sinead acknowledges she indicated suicidal thoughts – but says she was then stripped again and left naked for 16 hours without anti-rip garments.

CCTV of Sinead Foley in custody

Image: CCTV of Sinead Foley in custody

Sinead Foley in custody

At one point male officers are clearly in the cell with her when she is naked – the door is shut, and she is left alone with just a mattress on the floor which she says she later pulled over herself.

“They only left the blue mat in the room, that’s the only thing. So, to try and cover my modesty… I just felt totally violated.”

West Midlands Police told Sky News that no offences were committed by officers.

The force added: “Officers and staff became increasingly concerned for her welfare and took a number of steps to ensure her safety while she was in custody.

“It became necessary to arrange medical attention and to remove her clothing due to concerns for her safety and mental health.

“She was given blankets and water, but custody staff were unable to provide her with food and replacement clothing initially due to her aggressive behaviour and risk to cause herself harm.”

Sinead disputes that she was too aggressive to give clothes to, and asked the police for further footage to be provided of the period she was left naked in the cell.

West Midlands Police told us. “By the time a request for further footage of her sleeping overnight had been received, it had been automatically deleted from force systems, in line with our data retention policy which ensures personal data is not kept for longer than necessary.”

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Mayor responds to Sky’s report on strip searches

Earlier this week Sky News revealed allegations of humiliating and unnecessary strip searches conducted by Greater Manchester Police, with one woman claiming she had been raped in custody. The city’s mayor, Andy Burnham, has said he will launch an independent investigation.

He told Sky News: “People watching this programme will rightly want to know that they will be fully, properly and independently investigated. And I can give people that assurance today.

“And that’s important for two reasons. Obviously, for the individuals concerned, they will want to be assured that every single point that they’ve raised will be properly investigated. But, secondly, it’s important with regard to women’s competence in policing and under, of course, policing in Greater Manchester.”

The former victims commissioner, Vera Baird, said one concern is women being punished for complaining about the police.

She said: “We are all very well aware that there are often sceptical approaches to women, that sometimes women feel that they are the ones on trial and the notion that therefore you might have to press a little hard to get the police to take some notice of you suddenly opens up this new vista that you may yourself then, at its very early stage, become arrested and treated badly because you are behaving in a nuisance way, as it were, to the police.”

Read more:

Minister to contact police watchdog

Met Police officer ‘repeatedly raped’ by colleague

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Are women safe in custody?

After seeing images of Zayna Iman being stripped in custody, a number of Sky News viewers got in touch with their own allegations of abuse by other police forces, with several saying their complaints were ignored.

Quotes from emails include: “I was a victim of a crime and detained naked in a cell overnight in the freezing cold.”

Another reads: “The CCTV of me pinned naked on my back in a cell by four/five officers then pepper sprayed is ‘not available’.”

Another said: “I struggle with the memories of what happened to me. The officer who assaulted me was sadistic, he got off on having that power over me.”

Maggie Oliver, whose foundation has helped provide support to some of the women we have spoken to, said: “This for me is an abuse of power. It’s power in the wrong hands, which means that they believe that they are unaccountable.

“And that is not what a police force or a police service is. They are public servants. And they should be responding when there are allegations of this nature.”

Greater Manchester police said it had found no evidence of officer misconduct in the cases raised, but has referred itself to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

Deputy Chief Constable Terry Woods said: “I want to make it absolutely clear that we understand and share the concerns of the public regarding allegations against Greater Manchester Police… Miss Iman’s allegations regarding her treatment in custody, in February 2021, are subject to an ongoing investigation.

“The force made a referral to the IOPC which instructed a GMP-led investigation.

“Having reviewed the content of the television report which highlights additional concerns, I have taken the decision to make another referral to the IOPC in order to assure Miss Iman and the public that all of her allegations will be rigorously and independently reviewed.”

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