POLICE have used stop and search powers on nearly 300 children under the age of five in the space of just five years, it has been reported.
Freedom of information requests made by The Sunday Times show the powers, which allow police to stop and search anyone they believe are carrying illegal drugs, weapons, stolen property or something which could be used to commit a crime, had been used on 182 children aged under five in London alone.
The police stressed that in nearly all cases recorded of toddlers being targeted under the powers they believed the children had been "exploited by an adult," where the child had been persuaded to hide items on behalf of an adult, and that these children should be treated as vulnerable, rather than as criminals.
The controversial orders have been long been criticised amid claims the powers are routinely abused. In 2013 a quarter of all stop and searches were deemed to be unlawful, while in 2010 almost 17,000 drug searches were carried out on people under the age of 15.
Greater Manchester Police had the second highest rate of stop and search use against under-fives, with 45 cases recorded, the paper reported.
In total, 610 children under the age of 10 - and below the age of criminality - were searched under the powers across the country's police forces.
Scotland Yard told the Sunday Times: "The searching of children under 10 represents an extremely small percentage of the Metropolitan police service's total stop and search activity: 0.02 per cent in 2013 - 2014.
"In many cases, the young person has been exploited by an adult and persuaded to carry or conceal items on their behalf. In such cases the child would be considered to be vulnerable and in need of protection rather than dealt with under the criminal code."
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