Three Metropolitan Police officers are facing allegations of gross misconduct over the strip-search of a 15-year-old schoolgirl wrongly accused of possessing cannabis.

Watchdog the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said on Thursday that the officers will face a misconduct hearing, and a fourth a lesser misconduct meeting, over the treatment of Child Q.

The girl, who is black, was strip-searched while on her period with no appropriate adult present, at a school in Hackney, east London in December 2020, after being accused of carrying drugs.

No drugs were found in her bags or outer clothing, and she was then strip-searched by two female officers with two male officers standing outside. Again no drugs were found.

Met bosses have been told by the IOPC that they should consider writing formal letters of apology to Child Q and her mother.

IOPC director Steve Noonan said: “The ‘strip search’ of Child Q, a 15-year-old girl, at her school in Hackney caused widespread concern. We have investigated the circumstances surrounding how this child was treated that day as fully as possible.

“We’ve found that four officers involved in the incident should face disciplinary proceedings for the parts they played. Ultimately it will be for that disciplinary panel to decide whether the allegations against them are proven.

“We will now be liaising with the Met Police around disciplinary proceedings. We’ve kept Child Q’s representatives and the officers involved updated throughout our investigation.”

The three officers accused of gross misconduct face allegations that the decision to carry out the search was inappropriate, Child Q was discriminated against because of her race and sex, there was no appropriate adult present and the officers did not get authorisation from a supervisor.

If gross misconduct is proved, the officers could be sacked.

The fourth officer will have a disciplinary meeting over the fact that no appropriate adult was present.

Detective Chief Superintendent James Conway, who leads policing in Hackney and Tower Hamlets, said: “We have been clear in saying that the experience of Child Q should never have happened and was truly regrettable.

“While we have publicly apologised, I am also writing formally to Child Q and her family to say sorry for the trauma that we caused her.

“It will now be for the hearing panel to determine whether the matters against the three officers are proven and it is important we don’t pre-judge the outcome.”

He said that more senior levels of authorisation are now needed for strip searches, and that the number of such searches being carried out has been reduced because the force “had been overusing this power”.

The IOPC is calling for police intimate search powers to be reviewed, calling on the Home Office and policing bodies to better safeguard children and make sure that officers understand the importance of having an appropriate adult present.

A line of uniformed police officers.
Police watchdog the IOPC has called for a national review of strip search powers following the Child Q case (Nick Ansell/PA)

Chanel Dolcy, Child Q’s solicitor, said: “Whilst Child Q and her family welcome the decisions reached by the IOPC in relation to the conduct of the officers, they are disappointed that it has taken over two years to reach this stage in the process and that they must wait further still for the disciplinary proceedings to conclude.

“In the meantime, they urge the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing to act promptly on the recommendations from the IOPC for a substantial review of police powers and laws so that what happened to child Q does not happen again. Until that happens, children across the country will remain at risk.”

The IOPC has investigated four other incidents since Child Q where children were strip searched by Met officers.

Two have resulted in officers either facing disciplinary meetings or so-called internal “reflective practices” – a strip search of a child in custody in 2022 with no appropriate adult, and the search of a 15-year-old girl at Walworth Police Station in December 2020 who was found to have a sharpened stick and a Stanley knife.

The third was a strip search of a 16-year-old boy at Ilford police station in January 2020 where no further action is being taken against the officers involved.

For the fourth a strip search of a 16-year-old boy at Bethnal Green police station in October 2020, the IOPC investigation has yet to be completed but it is expected that no disciplinary proceedings will result.