Cumbria police intimately searched four suspects who were found to be carrying no illegal goods over the last 11 years, 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.

Temporary Chief Superintendent Rob O’Connor, of Cumbria Police said these types of searches are only used when 'necessary and reasonable'.

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 Cumbria police made four intimate searches between 2009-10, the earliest year figures are available, and 2019-20.

Most of these, three, were to look for drugs, but Class A substances were never found.

In the one remaining search, no harmful articles were found.

Temp Ch Supt O’Connor said: “The low numbers of intimate searches demonstrate how seriously we take it.

"As can be seen, on the occasion we have had to do so it has been with the authority of a senior police officer who has considered all the circumstances, and the search has been carried out by a healthcare professional.

“We have seen people traffic Class A controlled drugs into Cumbria by concealing them within body orifices, and if they are detained at a police station this presents significant health risks for that person. “It is these sort of things a senior officer considers when authorising an intimate search to ensure it is both proportionate and necessary, and reasonable in all circumstances and the grounds exist to do so.”

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

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

A spokeswoman said: “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."

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 Cumbria, the figures show all searches since 2009-10 were carried out by qualified staff.

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

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.”