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Baird Inquiry is ‘lip service’, says woman alleging police sexual abuse

Zayna Iman, who says cops stripped, drugged and sexually assaulted her, has ‘zero faith’ in Greater Manchester inquiry

Nandini Archer
15 August 2023, 8.50am

Zayna Iman interviewed


Sky News

A new inquiry into women’s safety at the hands of Greater Manchester Police is merely “lip service”, according to a woman who alleges she was stripped, drugged and sexually assaulted while in the force’s custody.

The independent inquiry into the use of strip searches, intimate checks and the removal of clothing of women and girls who are taken into custody has been commissioned by Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and will be led by former victims commissioner Vera Baird.

But Zayna Iman, who accused GMP of wrongdoing after spending 40 hours in their custody in February 2021, said she had not even spoken to Baird. “I am still being let down despite being the central case in the inquiry,” she told openDemocracy.

“This inquiry is to mislead the public into thinking the central case – me – is on board with what they are doing. I am not.”

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This inquiry is to mislead the public into thinking the central case (me) is on board with what they are doing. I am not

Two other women have publicly accused GMP of unjustified strip searches after being arrested. The inquiry is separate from an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) that will look specifically at Iman’s case, announced earlier this month.

GMP has denied the allegations. 

Iman was arrested in 2021 after knocking the glasses off an officer’s face while using cocaine during a police callout.

Through a subject access request, she obtained CCTV footage of herself being put onto a mattress by three female police officers, who took off her jeans and cut off her underwear. The GMP has blamed a corrupted disc for at least two hours of missing footage. Meanwhile, Iman’s medical records showed evidence of bleeding from sexual injuries.

“I want accountability as over 30 months later sex offenders are still serving in Greater Manchester Police,” Iman told openDemocracy.

Iman said Baird’s office approached her on Thursday asking to meet and that she responded agreeing to do so – but has since been met with “radio silence” from the inquiry team. Baird’s office released its statement and terms of reference on Friday without her involvement, leaving her feeling further “stonewalled and gaslit”.

“My experience is central to the Baird inquiry as it is the only live IOPC investigation,” she said. “I’m one of three known victims here but my experience is one of sexual assault in a custody suite, not just strip search.”

Iman shared emails with openDemocracy showing she had made Baird and Burnham’s offices aware of her case in 2021. The inquiry was only announced last week. 

“I had to waive my right to anonymity to make myself heard, a decision that will affect me for the rest of my life, yet I’m still not being heard – despite a public inquiry,” she said. She added that she was the only one of the three women who waived their right to anonymity. 

Iman now has a meeting scheduled for 1 September with Burnham and his deputy mayor Kate Green after she separately contacted the Greater Manchester Combined Authority office.

The Baird Inquiry

Baird’s investigation will examine the three complainants’ cases, how widespread similar cases are, and whether GMP has adequate policies in place to protect against abuse.

Baird, who was made a dame in 2017, said in a statement last week: “The mayor and deputy mayor were very concerned by recent media reports which could seriously put at risk public confidence, and particularly that of women, in reporting crime or having any other contact with Greater Manchester Police.

“I will look not only at the events in the media but collect experiences and information widely in order to answer whether women’s rights, their safety and their dignity are being appropriately honoured and protected by this force.”

Representatives from community groups working with women and girls will also be asked to give evidence.

Anti-racist campaigner Zita Holbourne told openDemocracy that while she remained hopeful that Baird would do a thorough job, “it will likely only expose the tip of the iceberg with regard to all UK police forces”.

She said it was important that the inquiry take an intersectional approach by considering specifically the experiences of racialised women and those who have other protected characteristics.

Holbourne added: “We have had multiple inquiries and whilst they serve a purpose, what is needed is action to overhaul policing and root out racism, misogyny, sexism, ableism and homophobia.”

A spokesperson from Black Lives Matter UK told openDemocracy that the group had “no faith” in the inquiry.

They said Burnham was forced to call it due to the “brave persistence” of those like Iman.

“GMP’s structural sexism needs no lengthy investigation,” they said. “It is plain to see – and not unique to GMP.” They cited the case of Child Q, who was strip-searched while on her period at school in Hackney.

“We do not need an inquiry to tell us that strip-searches are by definition a form of sexual assault,” the BLMUK spokesperson added. 

“Until the police are stripped of the power to strip-search, there can be no end to this horrific violence.”

Both Baird and Burnham’s offices said they could not comment on the ongoing inquiry.

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