Child Q: Three police officers to face gross misconduct hearings over school strip-search

The Child Q scandal prompted protests in Hackney

Three police officers are to face gross misconduct hearings over the Child Q scandal, a police watchdog has confirmed in a long-awaited ruling.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said the officers face allegations that the decision in 2020 to strip-search the Black teenage girl at her school was “inappropriate”.

The watchdog found the officers did not consult a supervisor to get permission to do the search after they had been called in by the unnamed school.

They also face allegations that there was no appropriate adult present during the search, and that Child Q, who was 15 at the time, was discriminated against by officers because of her race and sex.

A fourth officer will face a disciplinary hearing relating to there being no appropriate adult present.

The IOPC also recommended that the police send formal letters of apology to Child Q and her mother.

The scandal sparked protests at Stoke Newington police station and in Hackney town centre when the teenager’s treatment came to light.

Child Q’s solicitor Chanel Dolcy 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 Chief’s 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.”

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 Metropolitan Police around disciplinary proceedings. We’ve kept Child Q’s representatives and the officers involved updated throughout our investigation.”

Hackney’s borough commander, Detective Chief Superintendent James Conway, 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 police “have made significant practical improvements, such as requiring more senior levels of authorisation, in how we carry out strip searches in custody and what we call ‘more thorough searches where intimate parts are exposed’ outside of custody”.

“We had been overusing this power, and work locally and across the Met has significantly reduced our numbers.”

He added: “We continue to work hard to listen to what our communities and partners have told us about this incident and use of search powers more generally.

“We wish these types of searches were not necessary but sadly we know there are children in London being exploited to carry drugs and weapons for others as well as involved in criminality.”

Hackney’s acting mayor Anntoinette Bramble and Susan Fajana-Thomas, cabinet member for community safety, welcomed the recommendations for “gross misconduct hearings against the officers who caused the unnecessary and racially-motivated suffering and humiliation of a Black Hackney child”.

They said: “We hope that the laws that govern the strip-searching of children will be strengthened, as the IOPC is calling for, to ensure the experience of Child Q – and other children subject to unjustified and disproportionate police practices – can never happen again.

“While we respect that disciplinary processes must be followed, we now urge, in the strongest terms, that these hearings are conducted in the swiftest possible timeframe, because the community – and more importantly Child Q and her family – have already been waiting too long for a resolution.

“The council has provided and continues to provide ongoing support to Child Q and her family. We think of them in light of these new developments and as they once again come under the national gaze.”

The Town Hall has recently launched a resident-led policing committee and has held a series of meetings in the community to talk to people affected by racism in the police.

The politicians said they have seen “an openness from the police to feedback and challenge from our communities”, adding: “The council remains committed to playing its part in bridging the gap between the police and the people of Hackney.

“It has been doing so by ensuring communities most affected by racism in policing – and Child Q’s experience – are at the forefront of that change, through a series of workshops, events, discussions and other community engagement.”