GREATER Manchester Police (GMP) intimately searched more than a dozen suspects who were found to be carrying no illegal goods over a 10-year period, new figures reveal.

Intimate searches are made of someone's bodily orifices when police suspect they are hiding drugs or offensive weapons upon their person.

Drug reform charity Release said the low success rate of such searches nationally raises serious questions about the disproportionate use of such a "humiliating and degrading" use of power.

Analysis of Home Office data shows GMP made 21 intimate searches between 2009-10, the earliest year figures are available, and 2018-19.

Data for the force was not available in 2019-20.

Most of these, 13, were to look for drugs, but Class A substances were found on just five occasions.

In the remaining eight searches, one harmful article was found.

Police forces across England and Wales made 960 searches between 2009-10 and 2019-20, finding Class A drugs or harmful articles just 14 per cent of the time.

Under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, intimate searches may only be carried out if there are "reasonable grounds" for believing a detainee may have concealed anything which could be used to cause physical injury, or Class A drugs in the case of suspected couriers or dealers.

The Home Office said they should be carried out by a registered medical practitioner or nurse, unless a senior officer agrees this is not practicable.

In Greater Manchester, the figures show three searches since 2009-10 were not carried out by qualified staff – all were done by police officers instead.

Across England and Wales, 90 per cent of searches over this period were done by someone suitably qualified – but last year this fell to just 69 per cent, the lowest figure on record.

Release, the national centre of expertise on drugs and drugs law in the UK, said use of the power is centred around finding small quantities of drugs.

Dr Laura Garius, the charity's policy lead, said: "Intimate searches are the most invasive power available to police, they go beyond the removal of clothing and involve the internal examination of individuals’ bodily orifices, which is undoubtedly a humiliating and degrading experience for those subject to such searches.

"The fact that drugs are only found in roughly one out of ten such searches, raises serious questions about the disproportionate use of a power that allows the internal search of people’s bodies for drugs.

"These recent figures are concerning and are yet another example of how our current drug policies are not only failing individuals, but causing them harm – and why we need to reform our current drug policies immediately."

She suggested that analysis of those actually found in possession of drugs would likely show they were driven by economic desperation, and were carrying small quantities.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct said the use of intimate searches helps protect the safety of both detainees and custody staff.

A spokeswoman added: “Our recommendations in recent years have included calling for a national review of guidance in relation to physical contact during intimate searches and local recommendations that forces are training their custody staff appropriately, keeping records up to date and protecting the dignity of detainees."

A Home Office spokesman said: “It is an operational decision for individual forces, and we trust the police will use their powers fairly and proportionately.”