HAMPSHIRE police has hit back after a parliamentary inquiry warned that the force may be keeping children in cells – causing “unnecessary harm and distress”.

A report by a committee of MPs and peers raised the alarm over areas where custody suites do not have separate facilities for young people and adults.

They include Hampshire where, according to information provided to the inquiry, only three of 11 centres have separate facilities.

Enver Solomon, of the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), said: “Any child who comes into contact with the police should always be treated differently from an adult.

“For children who are at risk of exploitation, abuse or violence, it is particularly important that the police know what steps to take to protect them and put their welfare first.”

The NCB helped to compile the report for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which also warned against the “disproportionate” use of stop and search against children.

It found that, over the last five years, 1,136 stop and searches were carried out on under-10s in 22 police force areas.

And between 2009 and 2013, more than one million stop and searches were carried out on children under the age of 18 across 26 forces.

In Hampshire, between 2010 and 2013, a total of 36,422 stop and searches of under-18s were carried out – about one-third of the total.

The force did not provide figures for under-10s to the inquiry, but a spokeswoman told the Daily Echo that just 28 were stopped between 2011 and 2013.

And she defended the force’s custody practices, saying: “We do not put children in cell blocks because we appreciate that is not the place for children.

“Whenever children are brought into the cell block, they are treated as vulnerable and in need of protection – not as criminals.”

The spokeswoman suggested that children would be kept in an interview room, with an “appropriate adult”, adding: “They are probably victims of someone themselves.”

Police forces told the inquiry that it was necessary to stop and search under-10s because they could be used to conceal drugs or stolen goods.

Lady Massey, the group’s chairwoman, said: “We were surprised to find that, despite the fact that so many children are being stopped and searched by the police, there is no practice guidance to inform how to deal with children.”