Why Institutional Misogyny Thrives in the Metropolitan Police

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who explains why institutional misogyny thrives in the Metropolitan Police.

Kevin Donoghue explains why institutional misogyny thrives in the Metropolitan Police.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

“Actually coming onto victims is positively encouraged, it’s all part of the friendly and accessible face of the Met Police. It’s the rejection that is frowned upon.”

– Detective Chief Inspector James Mason (in an email sent from his official Metropolitan Police account to my client)

This is part three of a three-part blog post about my client “Maria’s” experience as a victim of police sexual abuse and participant in a police misconduct disciplinary hearing. Read parts one and two by clicking on these links:

Part 1: Why DCI James Mason Was Found Guilty of Gross Misconduct

Part 2:  How Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panels Work

You already know that the Metropolitan Police was accused of institutional racism in the past (In the McPherson report.)

You may also know that, recently, the force was described as institutionally corrupt and that the Met’s Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick was personally censured for obstruction (In a report investigating the killing of journalist Daniel Morgan)

Now add institutional misogyny to the list.

What is misogyny?

Misogyny is defined as:

hatred of, aversion to, or prejudice against women

Home Secretary Dominic Raab might want to read that again. He doesn’t seem to know what it means.

Misogyny at the Metropolitan Police is in the news because the government recently announced a limited inquiry relating to the “systematic failures” that allowed (now former) Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens to continue serving before he raped and murdered Sarah Everard.

Many people have already raised objections to the inquiry’s frame of reference. As reported here Jamie Klingler, co-founder of the campaign group Reclaim These Streets, insisted the inquiry needed to be statutory and judge-led – and needed to include women:

“It seems really specific about Wayne Couzens and not about the system that allowed a Wayne Couzens to happen,” she told the BBC.

“It’s not admitting that there is systemic misogyny within the force that allowed this to happen, and by not doing so it’s pushing it under the carpet rather than exposing [it] at all levels.”

How My Client Experienced Misogyny in the Metropolitan Police

My client “Maria” experienced such institutional misogyny firsthand in:

  1. her interactions with DCI James Mason
  2. the Disciplinary Panel convened by the Metropolitan Police to deal with his gross misconduct.

As parts 1 and 2 of this blog post describe, Mason is a senior officer who has been in the Metropolitan Police for 22 years. He is a former staff officer to the Met’s Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick. He also worked in the force’s counter terrorism unit and became a DCI in 2017. He is now part of the Met’s elite central specialist crime unit “flying squad”, made famous in “The Sweeney” t.v. show.

Maria was targeted by Detective Chief Inspector James Mason, who abused his position as a police officer by “attempting to pursue a sexual relationship”.

After my client made a formal police complaint about DCI Mason’s misconduct, the Metropolitan Police’s Directorate of Professional Standards brought eight allegations against him.

Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panel Findings

On 4-5 October, the Disciplinary Panel heard live evidence from both DCI Mason and my client.

It found my client to be “a credible witness” and that DCI Mason breached three separate Standards of Professional Behaviour. All eight allegations were proven. Mason was found guilty of gross misconduct, which is “so serious as to justify dismissal”.

The Panel found breaches of the following Standards of Behaviour:

  1. Authority, Respect, and Courtesy
  2. Integrity, Authority, Respect, and Courtesy
  3. Discreditable Conduct

Police Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose

Although the Panel did not explicitly say DCI Mason abused his position for a sexual purpose, this police definition makes clear that his misconduct falls within that category:

“Any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public.

This includes: committing a sexual act, initiating sexual contact with, or responding to any perceived sexually motivated behaviour from another person; entering into any communication that could be perceived as sexually motivated or lewd; or for any other sexual purpose.”

An inspector with Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary Fire and Rescue Services describes it as the “most serious” form of corruption within the police:

Make no mistake about it, the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women is corruption. It is using authority for personal gain, which is a definition of corruption.

“It is the most serious corruption problem in the sense that it is the ultimate betrayal of trust, where the guardian becomes the abuser. That is what we are seeing in these cases, and we’re seeing too many.

Even the National Police Chiefs’ Council are concerned about it, calling police abuse of power for a sexual purpose a “disease”.

In a blog post I wrote in 2017 I noted that all but one police force was affected by this problem. And, as an official 2017 report showed, 40% of allegations involved vulnerable victims of crime like my client.

Despite the gravity of the proven misconduct against DCI Mason, the Panel decided that a final written warning was enough of a punishment. It will remain on his record for only three years.

Misconduct Panel Failure

Read how the Panel came to its decision here.

Both my client and I disagree with the Panel’s reasoning and its decision. This is because the Panel put undue weight on irrelevant and/or unimportant matters when deciding the sanction for DCI Mason’s alleged, and then proven, gross misconduct. Among other things it noted these mitigating factors:

  • that the misconduct was brief, (mostly) admitted, and happened 10 years’ ago
  • Mason did not pursue a relationship with Maria when she contacted him about another crime months later
  • his 22 years’ service, promotions, and commendations
  • seven character references, which “speak very highly of his abilities as a police officer

Perhaps most curiously, the Panel noted that “there are no reports of any inappropriate behaviour or misconduct by DCI Mason since 2011”. And yet, as my client says:

It’s hard to imagine I’m his only victim.

How Police Officers Handle Misconduct Disciplinary Panels

DCI Mason avoided losing his job despite his gross misconduct. Some officers might try to avoid getting the sack after abusing their position for a sexual purpose by following his lead. It seems that officers need only:

  • give a written statement to the investigating officer to avoid saying anything incriminating in an oral interview
  • deny allegations and contradict witnesses with their own version of events (making hard-to-disprove “she said/ he said” arguments)
  • minimise the impact of anything they can’t hide
  • get pre-hearing legal representation and insist that the witness (or witnesses) give evidence in person. This might discourage them from attending or put them in an uncomfortable and stressful position if they do come
  • produce supportive “character” references from fellow officers
  • show a long, productive service history which describes what an asset they are to the police. As I have previously written, the police are on a recruitment drive. They can’t afford to lose officers, especially high-ranking ones.
  • delay, deny, and defend to put as much time as possible between the misconduct and the present day.
  • argue that the police’s Codes of Ethics were weaker and that they were not aware of them, and/ or that the incidents occurred in “different times”.

Note of Caution

I urge:

  • investigating officers in police Force Professional Standards Departments,
  • Police Misconduct Disciplinary Panels
  • the media and the public

to be on the lookout for the tactics described above.

And, for the police officers reading this blog post, be aware that the techniques I describe above are well-known. Disciplinary panels, investigating officers, solicitors, and victims of police misconduct take a dim view of them.

The Problem With Police Officers Giving Character References in Disciplinary Misconduct Hearings

DCI Mason submitted seven “character references” to the Disciplinary Panel.

The Panel noted that the references all spoke “very highly of his abilities as a police officer” and considered them when reviewing “mitigating factors” to lessen any punishment.

It stands to reason that the references were given by DCI Mason’s fellow officers, given that they focused on his “abilities as a police officer”.

But, allowing references of this kind helps people who have no place in the police to continue serving and foster a culture of institutional misogyny.

This is because these “character references” are nothing of the sort. They focus on professional skills and avoid addressing the misconduct charges directly or the officer’s persona.

The fact that the Disciplinary Panel did not call this out in DCI Mason’s case is troubling.

But, in another indication of the institutional misogyny which exists within the Metropolitan Police, Mason is not alone in getting support from his fellow police officers despite his actions.

Even after he had pleaded guilty to murdering Sarah Everard, Wayne Couzens produced character references from fellow Metropolitan Police officers who “spoke supportively” of him too. Those officers showed a clear lack of judgement and undermined Cressida Dick’s claim that all officers were outraged by Couzens’ actions. There may be consequences for them in the inquiry.

Fellow officers should think twice if asked to give such “character” references by officers involved in disciplinary proceedings. Such references reflect poorly on them, and the force they represent, when panels find misconduct.

Polce Misconduct Disciplinary Hearing Victim Impact

DCI Mason may have been successful in his approach at the hearing. He got a slap on the wrist. But at what cost?

My client is an innocent victim of proven police misconduct. She helped the Metropolitan Police by:

  • coming forward with a complaint at her own risk
  • giving evidence twice: first in a written statement, then in a public hearing. She travelled to an imposing Metropolitan Police building which was over an hour’s travel time from her home to appear in person
  • producing emails to prove DCI Mason’s misconduct, so limiting the panel’s work.

And, unlike DCI Mason, Maria told the truth. Her version of events was preferred by the panel.

To be fair, she found that representatives from the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards were courteous, helpful, and polite. And yet, she emailed me on the first day of DCI Mason’s hearing that:

I am a witness and victim and my welfare was not considered. I feel completely exhausted and disregarded.

She said “the rest of the day was a disaster” which left her “in floods of tears”. She:

  • experienced a panic attack when she came across DCI Mason outside
  • was badly treated by ushers and left in a closed, dark, public viewing room for over 3 ½ hours
  • was not kept informed about the hearing, and only found out that the Panel had left by reading a Twitter thread from another viewer:

Daniel the MouseInTheCourt

Yep, the tribunal had gone home. We were kept waiting in a sealed room for 4 hours. What a waste of time.

Understandably, she did not attend on the second day.

Institutional Misogyny at the Metropolitan Police

My client has been emotionally scarred by the actions of DCI Mason and the Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Panel’s handling of his misconduct hearing.

Unfortunately, she is not alone. As this report describes:

More than 750 Met Police employees have faced sexual misconduct allegations since 2010 – with just 83 sacked.

The sexual misconduct allegations – 88% of which were made against officers – include accusations of sexual harassment, sexual assault, rape and using a position of power for sexual gain.

Despite her experience, Maria urges others who have suffered police abuse, and in particular any potential victims of DCI Mason, to come forward. As she said to me:

My personal experience is just one example of the misogynistic violence and incompetence which is endemic in the Metropolitan Police. The police harbour an environment for toxic culture to thrive. Removing men like DCI James Mason from service won’t fix it, but it is a necessary start.

DCI Mason’s boss, Dame Cressida Dick, recently claimed that there is the occasional “bad ’un” within the ranks of the Metropolitan police service.

She’s wrong.

This is not a case where there are a few bad apples. Her force protects and enables misogynists. It gives men like DCI Mason the tools to prey on vulnerable women.

It is rotten to the core.

Kevin Donoghue represents “Maria” in her civil action against the Metropolitan Police.

 

How Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panels Work

 

Photo of Kevin Donoghue solicitor, who explains how Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panels work.

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue explains how Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panels work here.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

This is part two of a three-part blog post about my client “Maria’s” experience of police misconduct proceedings involving DCI James Mason of the Metropolitan Police.

Read part one here: Why DCI James Mason Was Found Guilty of Gross Misconduct. In that blog post I laid out the circumstances which led to DCI Mason’s misconduct hearing.

After an investigation, Mason was called to answer serious allegations of police corruption at a two-day police misconduct hearing on 4-5 October 2021.

As you can read in my earlier post, it was proven that he abused his position as a police officer for his own sexual gain.

DCI Mason, a senior officer within the Metropolitan Police’s “flying squad”, propositioned and made sexualised comments to my client, a vulnerable victim of crime.

He was found guilty of gross misconduct by a Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panel but kept his job. The officer got a “slap on the wrist”: a final written warning which will remain on his record for three years before being wiped.

The investigation only took place because my client bravely made a formal police complaint, gave a witness statement in support, and attended a misconduct hearing to give live evidence.

Here I explain how the Disciplinary Panel dealt with the matter and came to their decision.

How are Police Misconduct Disciplinary Hearings dealt with in the UK?

The procedure for police misconduct disciplinary hearings is set by Parliament-made laws.

Depending on the circumstances and date the alleged incidents occurred, relevant legislation includes: the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012, The Police (Conduct) (Amendment) Regulations 2015, and The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020.

These laws are supported by the College of Policing’s Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings.

The laws and guidance matter because they provide a clear framework for how to deal with police misconduct. As the country’s biggest police force, the Metropolitan Police will know them well.

Here are three things to note when looking at the law and official guidance on police misconduct disciplinary hearings:

  1. as I explained previously, disciplinary hearings are not set up to punish police officers. Instead, they are intended to maintain public confidence.

As Lord Carswell stated in R (Green) v Police Complaints Authority:

Public confidence in the police is a factor of great importance in the maintenance of law and order in the manner which we regard as appropriate in our polity. If citizens feel that improper behaviour on the part of police officers is left unchecked and they are not held accountable for it in a suitable manner, that confidence will be eroded.

I invite you to keep that quote in the front of your mind as you read on.

  1. police misconduct disciplinary proceedings (like the one that dealt with DCI Mason) are not decided by a judge and/or jury, like in civil court actions against the police. Instead, they are heard before a three-person panel. The Panel usually includes:

a member of a police force of the rank of superintendent or above (provided the member is of a more senior rank than the officer concerned)

In practice, and as in DCI Mason’s case, this panel-member is from the same force as the officer accused of misconduct. (It was Detective Superintendent Darren Mercer on this occasion.) He or she has considerable power as they can give the deciding vote for, or against, dismissal or other sanctions.

  1. they are not court proceedings and the normal rules of evidence do not apply. As I explain here, Disciplinary Misconduct Panels have wide latitude in how they conduct misconduct hearings. Among other things, they can:
  • choose whether to call witnesses or admit written statements alone in evidence
  • limit questions or otherwise direct lines of enquiry
  • anonymise officers’ and other details
  • hold part, or all, of hearings in private
  • accept, and give credit for, character references in support of the officer
  • etc.

What Happened at DCI James Mason’s Disciplinary Misconduct Hearing

As required, details of the hearing were shown on the Metropolitan Police’s website, as you can see below:

Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Hearing Notice for DCI James Mason

Metropolitan Police disciplinary hearing notice for DCI James Mason.

The Metropolitan Police’s Professional Standards Directorate set out eight allegations in a “Regulation 30 notice”, which was prepared in accordance with the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020.

The notice was dated 18 May 2021. DCI Mason had plenty of advance notice and time to prepare himself and get his story straight before the 4-5 October hearing.

Decision to Call Witnesses

My client had already given a witness statement which was included in the hearing papers. They totalled 148 pages and were shared with DCI Mason’s legal team in advance of the hearing.

The Panel also called her to attend and give live evidence as a witness. As mentioned earlier, misconduct panels have wide discretion about dealing with witness evidence and could have accepted her written statement alone. They could have chosen not to put her through this.

Disciplinary Hearings involving police abuse of power for sexual gain can be especially traumatic for the victim. Knowing this, I insisted that the Panel put “special measures” in place.

The Panel agreed to use the pseudonym “Maria” and, most importantly, Maria was shielded from DCI Mason (but the Panel and lawyers could still see her).

Being called to give evidence meant that Maria was put in the stressful position of having to defend the version of events she had previously given in her witness statement.

She also had to travel to the Metropolitan Police’s imposing Empress State Building, which was over an hour away, and take a full day to help the Appropriate Authority Advocate (the “prosecutor”) present their case.

Misconduct Allegations Against DCI James Mason

At the hearing, the Panel was told by the Appropriate Authority’s Advocate that DCI Mason’s conduct amounted to a breach of Standards of professional Behaviour, in respect of:

  • Honesty & Integrity
  • Authority, Respect & Courtesy
  • Discreditable Conduct.

The Panel noted that there were eight allegations of police misconduct against DCI Mason arising out of his contact with my client.

He admitted six of them beforehand, probably because they were all factual and not open for debate. They confirmed the basis of the case and that the emails Mason sent to Maria (and she posted to her social media account) were accurate and true.

This left only two allegations for the Disciplinary Misconduct Panel to consider at the hearing. The two allegations DCI Mason refused to accept related to:

  1. inappropriate questions he raised during the interview at Kentish Town Police Station. In particular, the allegations that asked Maria if she had a boyfriend, what she wore to work, and if he could take her out to dinner that evening.
  2. whether his conduct was a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour relating to Honesty and Integrity, to Authority, Respect and Courtesy and to Discreditable Conduct. It was alleged by the Advocate that:
  • Your comments towards Maria whilst taking her witness statement on 23 October 2011 were inappropriately personal and were in breach of the Standard relating to Authority, Respect and Courtesy.

  • Your subsequent emails with Maria on 24 October 2011 were also inappropriate and were an attempt by you to establish a relationship with a person you knew to be a victim of crime. By these emails you were abusing your position as a police officer and Maria’s trust, in breach of the Standards relating to Honesty and Integrity Authority and to Respect and Courtesy.

  • You behaved in a manner which brought discredit on the Metropolitan Police Service and undermined public confidence in policing, in breach of the Standard related to Discreditable Conduct.

Contradictory Evidence at a Police Misconduct Hearing

These allegations went to the heart of DCI Mason’s misconduct. He had a very different version of events about how the interview at Kentish Town Police Station occurred. He also did not agree that his conduct amounted to a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour.

This made it a “she said/ he said” case, where one person was an inexperienced and vulnerable witness, and the other a high-ranking, well-trained authority figure.

To add to the imbalance of power, DCI Mason was legally represented at the hearing. My client was just a novice witness.

What Happened During the Misconduct Hearing?

Both Maria and DCI Mason gave evidence in person. During Mason’s live evidence, Maria, and those in the public viewing room, learned that:

  • DCI Mason is 43. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1999 and worked his way up the ranks. He started at Belgravia station before going to Hackney as a Detective Sergeant about “4 or 5 years later”. He worked as a “staff officer” for the Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, and for the counter terrorism unit, becoming a Detective Chief Inspector in 2017. He now works in the elite “flying squad”.
  • he submitted seven supportive character witness statements from colleagues.
  • Mason should not have been the officer to take Maria’s statement. He was a supervisor. A more junior colleague could have done it.
  • he defended himself, while partially admitting the allegations about what he asked during the interview at Kentish Town Police Station. At the hearing Mason now admitted asking inappropriate questions. He admitted asking Maria if she:
  • wore the Playboy bunny girl outfit at work (he said he used the word “iconic” to describe it)
  • had a boyfriend (he claimed this was to check if she had support)
  • he denied asking her out for dinner (which I find particularly odd because Mason accepted that he sent the email inviting her for a drink. Drink or dinner: it makes no difference. It’s an invitation to go on a date, which is abusive and wrong).
  • Mason asked the Disciplinary Panel to note that he had worked with vulnerable victims of crime during the years since and had “never followed through with any opportunities presented” to him.

Maria was robustly challenged on her evidence by the lawyer for DCI Mason, whose career was potentially at stake. She described the defence as “quite aggressive but I answered honestly”. Maria stuck to her guns and gave consistent evidence about what happened.

What did the Disciplinary Misconduct Panel Think About the Two Witnesses?

Maria was satisfied that she gave a good account of herself. The panel agreed. Despite all his professional training and attempts to build up his status, the Panel preferred Maria’s version of events over DCI Mason’s.

It found Maria to be “a credible witness”. Evidently, Detective Chief Inspector James Mason was not.

The Disciplinary Panel found that Mason:

  • inappropriately asked Maria if she had a boyfriend not out of concern for her welfare, but because he “was attracted to Maria and was interested in pursuing a relationship with her”
  • invited her out for dinner during the Kentish Town Police Station interview, despite Mason’s direct evidence to the contrary
  • inappropriately asked Maria if she wore the bunny girl outfit at work and that he did not use the word “iconic” as he claimed.

Misconduct Hearing Findings

The Disciplinary Panel, which included one of Mason’s colleagues (Detective Superintendent Mercer), found all eight misconduct allegations proven.

It said that Mason breached the Standard of Professional Behaviour relating to Authority, Respect, and Courtesy in the Police Code of Ethics.

(Mason accepted that, even though the incidents occurred in 2011 and Code was from 2014, he was bound by the same guidelines at the time.)

Among other things, the Misconduct Panel recorded that:

“DCI Mason attempted to establish a relationship with Maria whilst taking her statement when he knew that she was the recent victim of an attempted street robbery.”

“In his dealings with Maria, DCI Mason failed to do the right thing. He sent her emails in an attempt to establish a relationship with Maria which was a clear breach of the guidance in the Code of Ethics where it says ‘you must ensure that your decisions are not influenced by improper consideration of personal gain’.

“He acted unprofessionally in attempting to pursue a personal relationship with Maria.”

“…in attempting to establish an improper relationship with a victim of crime DCI Mason damaged the relationship of trust between the police and the public.”

 

Why DCI Mason was Guilty of Gross Misconduct

The Panel found that DCI Mason “was attempting to pursue a sexual relationship” with Maria. It noted breaches of three different Standards of Professional Behaviour:

  1. Authority, Respect, and Courtesy
  2. Integrity, Authority, Respect, and Courtesy
  3. Discreditable Conduct.

These were:

a significant departure by him from the behaviour expected of a police officer.

As a result, it:

was such a fundamentally inappropriate way for him to have acted that the panel are in no doubt that his behaviour constituted Gross Misconduct.

Gross misconduct is a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious as to justify dismissal from the force.

Having made that finding, the Panel then considered aggravating and mitigating factors to determine DCI Mason’s punishment.

Aggravating factors which DCI Mason’s Disciplinary Panel considered included:

  • Mason’s sexual motive
  • a proven breach of trust
  • continuing with inappropriate behaviour even though Maria told him it was wrong in her emails
  • the adverse impact on Maria, who lost trust in the police
  • the fact that Maria was a vulnerable victim of crime
  • DCI Mason was found to have breached the standards of Authority, Respect, and Courtesy.

Given recent events, this might be the most interesting aggravating factor the panel included:

There is a very significant level of public concern at the present time about the way in which police officers behave towards female victims of the public.

Mitigating factors included:

  • DCI Mason’s misconduct occurred over a short period
  • he admitted most of the factual allegations and that they amounted to misconduct (but not gross misconduct, which the Panel found)
  • Mason did not attempt to create a personal relationship with Maria when she contacted him about a burglary months later
  • “DCI Mason has shown significant remorse for his inappropriate behaviour” (my client would dispute that given that he defended some of his gross misconduct at the hearing)
  • Mason had “an excellent service record since 2011” and there were no reports of other inappropriate behaviour or misconduct
  • he provided seven character references “all of which speak very highly of his abilities as a police officer”
  • he has been promoted since 2011, is now a Detective Chief Inspector, and “was recently successful in a Superintendent promotion assessment centre”, and has received commendations for service
  • guidance to police officers was “less comprehensive” when the events occurred in 2011
  • again, the Panel considered the public impression when it noted this mitigating factor:

The events with which the Panel is concerned today occurred almost 10 years ago when public concern about the type of behaviour exhibited by DCI Mason was less pronounced.

(In including this comment, the Misconduct Panel appears to suggest that 2011 was a time when abuse of authority for sexual gain by police officers was acceptable. My client, and I, cannot disagree with that idea more.)

Why Did DCI Mason Keep His Job?

The Panel went on to record its decision. It noted that the purpose of the police misconduct regime is to:

  • maintain public confidence
  • uphold standards
  • deter misconduct
  • protect the public.

As I mentioned earlier, it is not designed to punish police officers.

Among other things, the Disciplinary Panel described:

  • Mason as having an “otherwise blameless career”
  • considered the delay “significant”, as “the issues arising in this case are currently very topical but were much less so in 2011”
  • “The delay in this matter coming before this Panel is mainly due to the delay in Maria making a complaint to the MPS”
  • “This type of behaviour and more serious examples of police officers abusing their position of trust when dealing with female members of the public have been prominent in the media in recent months. The Panel are mindful of this.”
  • the need to deter misconduct and maintain public confidence.

The Disciplinary Misconduct Panel determined that the “appropriate and proportionate outcome is that DCI Mason is given a final written warning” which will remain on Mason’s record for three years.

It considered “the more serious outcomes of Reduction in Rank or Dismissal without Notice would be disproportionately harsh in the Panel’s judgment in all the circumstances.”

Lastly, the Panel determined that there were “no learning points” from the investigation or preparation of the case.

Read part 3 of this blog post: Why Institutional Misogyny Thrives in the Metropolitan Police.

In it I explain my client’s experience, why we disagree with the Panel’s decision, and why institutional misogyny thrives in the Metropolitan Police.

 

 

 

 

 

Why DCI James Mason Was Found Guilty of Gross Misconduct

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who discusses DCI James Mason and his gross misconduct.

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue explains why DCI James Mason of the Metropolitan Police was found guilty of gross misconduct.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

On 04 October 2021, my client “Maria” gave evidence at the disciplinary misconduct hearing of a senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) James Mason.

(I have changed my client’s name to protect her anonymity and prevent any potential repercussions from police officers and their acolytes who may read this. As you will find out, she has no confidence in them.)

In the official notice (reproduced below) on the Metropolitan Police’s website, DCI Mason was alleged to have:

“breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour in respect of ‘Honesty & Integrity, Authority, Respect & Courtesy and Discreditable Conduct’.

Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Hearing Notice for DCI James Mason

Metropolitan Police disciplinary hearing notice for DCI James Mason.

After reviewing a file of evidence and hearing from witnesses and lawyers at a two-day hearing, the Panel found proven all eight allegations against him. It was satisfied that DCI James Mason was guilty of gross misconduct.

But, surprisingly, the Misconduct Panel did not follow this recommendation:

It is further alleged that his conduct, if proven, amounts individually or collectively to gross misconduct and is so serious as to justify dismissal.

(my emphasis)

Instead, they gave him a final written warning, which will stay on his record for three years.

In this three-part blog post you will find out:

  • what DCI Mason did and how it affected my client
  • how this senior detective’s abuse of power led to a police misconduct hearing
  • what this case shows about institutional misogyny in the Metropolitan Police.

Background

On 23 October 2011, Maria was a victim of an attempted street robbery in Camden, central London. She was physically assaulted when four thieves on bicycles tried to take her mobile phone.

Maria called the Metropolitan Police. In a shocked and vulnerable state, she went to Kentish Town Police Station to give a statement. She was dealt with by Detective Sergeant (now Detective Chief Inspector) James Mason.

He took her statement alone.

During the interview, Maria says DCI Mason asked her inappropriate, invasive, and irrelevant questions, like:

  • if she had a boyfriend
  • what clothes she wore at work (Maria was a croupier at Playboy casino)
  • if he could take her out for dinner.

Maria felt these questions were suggestive and overtly sexual. They made her feel uncomfortable and even more upset. She declined his invitation to a date.

DCI Mason gave her his official met.police.uk email address. The following day, Maria emailed the officer about the case with an idea to help identify her attackers. She asked if her phone could be fingerprinted to catch them.

DCI Mason said it could not.

Then, using his official email account, DCI Mason sent shocking, frequent, and brazen emails to this vulnerable victim of crime. Maria posted the emails to her social media account the following day (24 October 2011). In them, DCI Mason:

  • invited my client for “a drink”
  • offered to take photographs of her and said she was “amazingly hot”
  • said that “coming onto victims is positively encouraged by the Metropolitan Police”, but that rejecting officers’ advances is “frowned upon”.
  • described himself as “determined” when pursuing “beautiful women”.

My client rebuffed his advances from the beginning. She replied that DCI Mason’s emails were inappropriate and:

  • asked if he was breaking a code of practice
  • told him he could get fired for his unwanted approaches.

He replied that she was “probably right on both counts” but continued his campaign of harassment anyway.

There were more incriminating emails, but unfortunately, Maria cannot recover them. Apparently, neither can the Metropolitan Police despite their considerable resources, which I find convenient in the circumstances.

Eventually, DCI Mason got the message. He emailed suggesting that Maria keep his details in a “little black book” for later use. He told her that she was his “favourite” crime victim.

Consequences of DCI Mason’s Gross Misconduct

Maria suffered a physical and emotional trauma in the attempted street robbery. She was clearly vulnerable. DCI Mason’s misconduct made her experience much worse. She said:

I felt taken advantage of. At the time, I tried to steel myself against his behaviour and laugh it off. But in reality the experience was confusing, distressing, and frightening.

I had been the target of a violent assault that afternoon and, instead of protecting me, he behaved in a way which made me feel once again like a target. I felt alone and isolated, like nobody was on my side unless they could get something from me.

The officer’s approach was unashamed, inappropriate, and unprofessional. Maria was clear in her repeated, but necessary, rebuffs, despite trying to keep the interaction light to avoid conflict. She told me:

I worried that if I rejected his advances, he might be less likely to help with my case. The email exchange which followed the incident made me feel persistently targeted to an even greater extent.

And his menacing claim that rejecting a police officer’s advances was “frowned upon” left her feeling afraid, distressed, and threatened.

Confidence in the Police Destroyed

Nothing ever came of the police’s investigation into Maria’s mugging. But she could not move on so easily.

Maria had never been in trouble with the police before, and rarely had anything to do with them. Her view of the police before this incident was that they were there “to serve and protect”.

DCI Mason’s misconduct shook this belief to the core. Maria lost all faith in the police. How could she trust them after this?

After dealing with DCI Mason, Maria realised that she would have to protect herself. She made, and carried, a self-defence spray from vodka, lemon, and tabasco.

Later, Maria was a victim of violent domestic abuse. She needed help but could not report it to the police because she feared misconduct from another officer.

Maria was “exhausted” and depressed.

Police Misconduct Investigation

Unlike DCI Mason, Maria had no experience or training in police ethics and misconduct. But she knew instinctively that what he did was wrong.

Understandably, she did not report DCI Mason’s misconduct at the time. But in October 2020, she got a social media prompt which included one of the posts with DCI Mason’s emails.

It triggered her still-raw emotions. But this time, like many women moved to act by the #MeToo movement, she resolved to fight for justice. She lodged a formal police complaint and was interviewed by two officers who took a written statement.

The Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards investigated her allegations and, crucially, reviewed Maria’s social media posts which contained the emails.

(This mattered because the posts were written and published when DCI Mason sent the offending emails. They were impossible to ignore.)

On 14 December 2020 DCI Mason was issued with a formal notice alleging breaches of the Standards of Professional Behaviour.

But, instead of a live interview under caution, he was given the chance to respond in writing.

Ten days’ later DCI Mason submitted a statement in which he denied that he acted inappropriately during the interview with Maria at Kentish Town Police Station.

He went further. The senior officer effectively called my client a liar when he confirmed that he asked Maria out for a drink but claimed that he did not ask her out for dinner (as if that matters).

But, because the social media posts were clearly true, he accepted that the emails referred to within them were real and accurate.

The officer acknowledged that the emails were wholly inappropriate and inexcusable. He claimed his misconduct was an isolated incident, for which he was embarrassed and ashamed. He apologised for any discomfort and distress caused.

Breach of the Police’s Ethical Standards

Mason probably hoped that was an end to the matter. It was not.

Instead, to his credit, the Professional Standards Directorate investigator effectively accepted Maria’s version of events. He recommended that DCI Mason face gross misconduct proceedings for a breach of the ethical standards in force at the time. These are the “Standards of Behaviour from the Police (Conduct) Regulations”.

The investigator noted that the Regulations, which DCI Mason as a serving officer was required to follow, say that police officers must:

  • Ensure that any relationship at work does not create an actual or apparent conflict of interest

  • Not engage in sexual conduct or other inappropriate behaviour on duty

  • Not establish or pursue an improper sexual or emotional relationship with a person with whom you come into contact in the course of your work who may be vulnerable to an abuse of trust or power.

The investigator found that:

  • there was an imbalance of power between my client and DCI Mason. The officer ought to have known about it and maintained professional boundaries.
  • Mason was persistent in his emails, and continued sending them despite my client’s clear rejection, telling the officer that he was “inappropriate”, and that he could get fired
  • DCI Mason discredited the Metropolitan Police Service when he said that soliciting victims is “positively encouraged”
  • he undermined the police’s position of trust
  • the idea that police policy may have been different nine years ago was incorrect. This was not a case where the officer could claim that those were “different times”.

The investigator further noted that:

The relationship between police and the public depends on confidence and trust. The college of policing guidance states “police personnel who display sexualised behaviour towards a member of the public who they have come into contact with through work, undermine the profession, breach trust, exploit a power imbalance, act unprofessionally and potentially commit a criminal act”.

DCI Mason’s disciplinary misconduct hearing took place on 4-5 October 2021. My client attended and gave evidence in person. The Misconduct Panel found all allegations of gross misconduct proven against DCI Mason.

After the hearing, Detective Chief Superintendent Donna Smith said that:

“The behaviour of DCI Mason was unacceptable and unprofessional. A victim of crime is already likely to feel vulnerable, they should never be made to feel worse by the actions of a police officer.

“DCI Mason abused his position as a police officer and the victim’s trust. I want to thank the woman concerned for having the courage to come forward, it cannot have been easy for her.”

Despite this unequivocal criticism, DCI Mason is still serving with the Metropolitan Police. He got away with an abuse of his police authority for sexual gain with little more than a “slap on the wrist”.

Read part two of this blog post- How Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panels Work – to find out what happened at the hearing and how the Panel came to its decision.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor and the Director of Donoghue Solicitors.

 

 

 

Who holds the police’s lawyers accountable?

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmsons, who wrote a blog post asking who holds the police's lawyers accountable.

Daniel Fitzsimmons considers the issue of who holds the police’s lawyers accountable.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

I recently wrote a blog post about who polices the police. (TL;DR: it’s brave claimants who seek justice after suffering due to police misconduct.)

Bringing a civil action against the police to court can be daunting. It is not easy, even with the advice and support of expert lawyers like me and my colleagues.

And the odds are stacked in the police’s favour. They have:

  • virtually unlimited resources. I’m not exaggerating. The government says funding for all 43 territorial forces in 2021 was over £13 billion. The police are agents of the State and take full advantage of that power by exploiting their financial, political, and other assets
  • sympathetic judges guided by public policy and their own desire to avoid “opening the floodgates” to compensation claims against the police
  • jurors who might be impressed by police officer witnesses. In the rare civil compensation cases that go to a jury trial, officers attend in full dress uniform and are well-trained in giving evidence. Jurors can be swayed by this presentation compared to an amateur civilian claimant dressed in more casual clothes
  • successive governments, none more so than the current Conservative one, who want to look “tough on crime”. Influenced by powerful lobbying organisations like the Police Federation, they make laws which give the police greater powers, such as being classed as “emergency workers” as my colleague Kevin Donoghue explains in his blog post Revealed: How Police Spin Doctors Work.
  • a civil justice system which puts the risk squarely on innocent claimants. It does this by depriving most people of legal aid, meaning that they must fund litigation themselves or find a lawyer willing to risk their own fees by taking the case on a “no win no fee” basis. Even then, the risks of suing the police, and often modest rewards, mean that many potential civil actions against the police fail to proceed.

Police forces, and especially their lawyers, are aware of these dynamics. This leads them to act with impunity, as a case I recently settled shows.

Police Investigation Following Patient’s Death

My client “Jane” (name changed) is a professional carer. She is a compassionate and devoted professional.

Jane takes her job seriously and was devastated when a 90-year-old woman died in her care. While it did not come as a shock given the patient’s age, what happened next did.

Unusually, the coroner got involved and the Metropolitan Police investigated.

The police alleged that Jane’s patient developed bedsores. They said that was a contributing cause of death.

The coroner disagreed, but that did not stop the Met’s investigators from digging further. (They clearly had my client in their sights.)

The Metropolitan Police’s investigation led to an (unfounded) criminal allegation that Jane was “cooking” her timesheets to suggest she was working in two or three places at once.

Voluntary Interview at a Police Station

Jane was still upset about her patient when the police called her in for a voluntary interview in February 2017.

She had never been in trouble with the police before and was understandably nervous about things.

So, Jane contacted a local solicitor for help. She met her solicitor at the police station on time. But, on arrival, Jane was immediately arrested, “booked in”, and taken into police custody. The police interviewed her before releasing Jane on bail.

Incredibly, she was under bail and facing the threat of criminal prosecution for 18 months. Eventually the police confirmed that no further action would be taken in respect of both allegations.

Investigating a civil claim against the police

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jane developed psychiatric symptoms because of the police’s alleged misconduct. As I explained in an earlier blog post about her case, among other things she was afraid, vulnerable, ashamed, humiliated, and lost confidence.

On one of her better days, Jane decided to seek legal help.

She paid a fixed sum to a firm of local solicitors for legal advice about a possible compensation claim.

Unfortunately, they were not experts in civil actions against the police. The firm advised that, in its opinion, Jane did not have reasonable prospects of success.

Disappointed, Jane went online and found Donoghue Solicitors. (She contacted my firm because we have specialist lawyers who offer expert advice in police law cases in England and Wales.)

I spoke with her and immediately felt that there was more to the case than her previous solicitors thought.

This is because I have over 15 years’ experience bringing civil actions against the police and have dealt with similar cases in the past. It appeared to be a strong “necessity” case. (Read why on our False Imprisonment page.)

My reading of the case was this:

  • Jane was invited for a voluntary interview, at which she attended with her solicitor on time
  • there was no doubt about her identity. The officers knew who she was and where she lived.
  • there was no risk of her repeating the alleged offences or destroying evidence. The police clearly thought that they had enough information from their investigations to interview her.
  • she was not a flight risk. Jane and her solicitor were not going to leave the station before the interview.

All this meant that there was no need to arrest her under the relevant law (the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act (2005)).

In my opinion, based on her version of events, this lack of necessity to arrest meant that Jane was entitled to bring a false imprisonment claim against the Metropolitan Police.

I agreed to investigate her case on a “no win no fee” basis, as Jane would not have been eligible for legal aid and did not any other way to fund it.

How Police Lawyers Handled the Case

I worked with Jane to get the evidence required to properly consider her case. It confirmed my initial view and her version of events so I prepared a detailed Letter of Claim. Before sending it, Jane and I discussed possible remedies in claims against the police. Jane wanted two things:

  1. an apology from the Metropolitan Police
  2. fair financial compensation to reflect the losses she had suffered.

I explained that apologies from the police are rare, but that I would include a request for one in the Letter. To Jane, as with so many of my clients, the apology mattered more.

I sent the letter. Despite the strong merits, the Metropolitan Police and their lawyers refused to accept responsibility in their response.

This meant that Jane had no alternative but to issue expensive, and time-consuming, court proceedings.

In doing so, she had to take a grave personal and financial risk, of the kind police force lawyers never have to consider. This is because the loser in litigation is responsible for most, if not all, of their opponent’s legal fees. The risk of financial ruin in Jane’s case was real and weighed heavily on her.

By contrast, the police’s lawyers had no such concerns. They knew that taxpayers would foot the bill if they lost.

Medical Examinations

All claimants and defendants must follow the Civil Procedure Rules in actions against the police.

Among other things, they set out how to deal with medical evidence where personal injury, which includes psychiatric injuries, is claimed. In most cases, the claimant gets a medical report prepared by an impartial, qualified expert. The doctor’s duty is to the court, not the party paying the bill. Because of this, the defendant usually accepts it, avoiding the need for further evidence on this point.

I arranged for Jane to meet with a qualified psychiatrist. I explained that:

  1. If the doctor found evidence of psychological personal injury, and
  2. his report was accepted by the police,

the court would use his report alone to consider how Jane had suffered at the hands of the police.

Following a thorough examination, the doctor produced a supportive medical report which showed that she had suffered a personal injury.

But again, the police’s lawyers pushed back. They refused to accept this independent doctor’s expert finding and used the taxpayers’ deep pockets to pay for a competing medical report from a “defendant-friendly” doctor.

Jane duly attended the medical examination. She told me that the expert was rude, argumentative, and made her undergo lots of unnecessary tests.

By this point, the financial consequences, stress, and delay were becoming overwhelming. The medical appointment with the police’s expert was “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. It traumatised Jane to such an extent that she was admitted to a psychiatric ward after it.

Fundamental Dishonesty Allegation

You’d think that Jane’s hospital admission would make the Metropolitan Police’s lawyers take stock and seek to settle her legitimate compensation claim.

Sadly not.

Instead, they relied on their doctor to continue fighting. He prepared an unfavourable medical report. In it the doctor said there was no evidence Jane had suffered a personal injury. This was a completely different conclusion to the first expert. He went even further and concluded that, as a result of his finding, Jane was exaggerating her symptoms.

The police’s lawyers did not need to accept this opinion. They could, and should, have disregarded it.

Instead, they used their doctor’s finding to argue “Fundamental Dishonesty”. (This is a legal device which defendants use to scare off claimants because it can lead to punitive costs penalties and even allegations of criminal fraud.)

Telling Jane the implications of this argument was painful. She had lived with the threat of criminal proceedings for over 18 months after her patient’s death. This brought it all back. There were many tears, emails, and phone calls as the litigation progressed.

But, as I mentioned in my previous blog post about her, Jane has a strong sense of justice, which she showed when she didn’t let the matter lie after her first lawyers turned the case away.

Jane wanted to proceed all the way to trial if necessary, and I was determined to help her.

Police Settlement Offer

The doctors agreed a joint statement to help the court by narrowing the issues.

The police’s doctor stood by his exaggeration argument. But he showed some semblance of medical credibility by agreeing with Jane’s first medical expert on one point: they both diagnosed her with a new disorder which was not raised previously.

As Jane’s case progressed towards trial the Metropolitan Police’s lawyers finally got real.

They made a “low-ball” offer of £3,500, without admission of liability or apology, on the basis that Jane was at risk of a judge finding her to be fundamentally dishonest at trial.

She rejected it on my advice.

Judge’s Intervention

On her behalf, I represented Jane at a pre-trial review court hearing at the end of July 2021. In preparation, both I and the police’s lawyers submitted a joint statement explaining the issues to be dealt with at trial, if the case could not be settled beforehand.

In my experience, the judge who reviewed the case is supportive of the police, having previously represented them as a practising lawyer.

So, it was a surprise to both lawyers when the judge said he was happy that causation was established. This meant that the police’s actions (wrongfully arresting Jane, keeping her on bail for 18 months etc.) had caused or contributed to her psychiatric and other losses.

He also said that the police doctor had exceeded his brief, saying it was for the trial judge to decide if a claimant was exaggerating, not a medical expert.

This is quite right as a recent case of Marwan Elgamal -v- Westminster City Council 2021 shows. In that case the judge found that the claimant was not fundamentally dishonest because:

“Judges frequently hear from witnesses who have persuaded themselves as to the existence of certain facts, but where the judge takes a very different view. Such witnesses are not, or at least not necessarily, untruthful or dishonest.”

(This court ruling makes the police’s lawyers insistence on pursuing that line of attack even more ridiculous. The bar to prove fundamental dishonesty is high given the serious implications.)

Lastly, a key issue in Jane’s case is that the arresting officer died more than three years ago. This would have made any trial hard for the police because, once a claimant shows that they were detained, it is the defendant police force’s job to prove that detention was lawful.

As we explain here, among other things, the legal test to prove that it was necessary to arrest depends on what was in the mind of the arresting officer.

The police’s lawyers only had a witness statement from their deceased officer, which is not as compelling as a live witness. Their case was much weaker as a result.

Claim Settlement Before Trial

Following the court hearing, the police’s lawyers acknowledged the reality of the situation. They increased their offer from £3,500 to £12,000, without admission of liability or an apology.

Again, I advised Jane to reject it. She agreed and authorised me to continue negotiating. With her approval, I settled her case a couple of weeks before trial.

The Metropolitan Police paid Jane £15,500 compensation and gave her the formal written apology she wanted. She is satisfied that she got the justice she deserved.

And yet Jane has been through the wringer. The police and their lawyers fought her case every step of the way.

As a result, a case which should have been resolved within a year took over four and a half years. It will cost the police significantly more in legal fees, court fees, and other expenses.

Police Lawyers Misconduct Exposed

In my experience the police’s lawyers routinely defend the indefensible. Unlike for claimants, there is no penalty to stop them acting this way.

And it appears that there is little, or no, management oversight into how these cases are handled.

The consequences for taxpayers and innocent members of the public like Jane are clear. The police’s lawyers get to act with impunity, abusing apparently- bottomless resources.

But it should not be the job of victims of police misconduct to hold the police’s legal teams accountable. It’s unfair, and it’s wrong.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive. Contact him here.

 

Revealed: How Police Spin Doctors Work

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, who reviews a recent news story to explain how police spin doctors work.

Kevin Donoghue reviews a recent news story to show how the police’s media spin doctors work.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Journalism is “the first rough draft of history.”

Former Washington Post President and Publisher Philip L. Graham

Mr Graham was right. Journalists (and lawyers like me) use words for a living. They are powerful. And they matter, especially when presenting a version of events to those who pass judgement.

The UK’s police forces know this too.

In today’s social-media driven world, it’s more important than ever for the police to present their case as “the first rough draft of history”. And they must act quickly, because officers’ conduct (and often misconduct) will be judged in the court of public opinion long before reaching a legal courtroom.

This is not new. The police have always been keen to get their side of the story across and present themselves in a favourable light.

But what you might not have noticed is how they have become masterful “spin doctors” who:

  • promote propaganda campaigns to help the police get what they want (as I explain in this blog post: Spit Guards or Spit Hoods? Don’t Fall for the Spin)
  • exploit the media’s inclination to report both sides
  • use our natural tendencies for a “quick fix” when scrolling through social media.

A recent story shows how.

Metropolitan Police Assault Story

It is standard practice for journalists to approach the police for quotes when reporting on an incident involving officers. They want their readers to hear the police’s version of events and often include quotes without editing.

As this recent story in the Independent shows, police force press departments use that opportunity to manipulate how events are seen in the court of public opinion.

In the story, journalist Nadine White describes how a frail 70-year-old black man was allegedly assaulted by Metropolitan Police (the Met) officers after they stopped him for driving with a broken brake light. She reports that the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is investigating the incident.

It appears that the story came about because the victim’s daughter posted a picture of an officer on Instagram on Monday. I reproduce the accompanying post (without editing or endorsing its contents) below:

picturecharxblm

Today these police men beat up my dad in the Shortlands/ Bromley area as they said he posed immediate threat towards them.

This incident escalated because the police men pulled my dad due to one of his lights not working which he was not aware of. My dad is born and bred Jamaican who’s accent is very strong and isn’t afraid to say what he feels about the @metpolice_uk and their corrupt racist system as my dad made hand gestures telling them to leave him alone they felt it was now their duty to physically abuse him.

My dad is 70 years old, no more than 8 stone, 5ft 6 who has had multiple strokes, heart problems and is also on blood thinning tablets.

Multiple witness’ have stepped forward to describe the absolute torture they put my dad through until my brother turned up. When questioned as to why they’ve assaulted him the police then lied to say my dad hit them.

My dad has suffered a broken nose, broken cheek bone/ eye socket and deep cuts to his head and other injuries. I am awaiting update from the hospital.

I’m absolutely heartbroken at this time 💔

Please repost. #blm #georgefloyd @metpolice_uk @bbcnews @itvnews

The Met’s Instagram account was tagged in the replies. That account is still active, and the last post was made on the same day as the Instagram post by the victims daughter.

Despite this, I cannot see a response from the Met to the victim’s daughter’s post in her Instagram feed.

Spin Doctors’ Response

For the Met’s press department, the failure to respond on Instagram does not matter. This is because The Independent (and probably others) wanted to include a quote in their reporting of the story. The Met have plenty of experience dealing with allegations of police misconduct, and it shows.

This is what the Force’s spokesperson, or “spin doctor”, said:

“We are aware of a post on Instagram relating to the arrest of a man following a vehicle stop on Blyth Road in Bromley,” said a Met Police spokesperson.

“After exiting the vehicle, the driver became involved in a struggle with an officer during which the officer sustained an injury to his eye.”

Ms White’s article continued:

The Met said the man was arrested at the scene on suspicion of assaulting an emergency worker.

He was then given first aid by officers before being transported to a south London hospital. He was later discharged and taken to a police station from where he was released under investigation.

No doubt, the Met’s quote led to The Independent’s headline and “both sides” byline:

Police watchdog probes case of Black man, 70, left in hospital after being stopped for faulty brake light

The Met Police said the pensioner was involved in a “struggle” with an officer on routine patrol.

Why Both Sides Headlines and Bylines Help the Police

Many people skim news stories and digest headlines only, especially on social media. “Click-through-rates” to read stories are far lower. People who read them all the way to the end are in an even-smaller minority.

This makes the headline and byline crucial to getting “the first rough draft of history” seen. The Met’s press department will be thrilled that a key part of their version of events (the description of it as a “struggle”) was prominently displayed here.

Analysis of the Met’s Press Release

In the Met’s brief quote, it has:

  • acknowledged the Instagram post, albeit four days later. This means that the Force can now avoid engaging with the poster or public directly.
  • avoided addressing the circumstances as described in the article or Instagram post. In particular, the spokesperson completely ignored the victim’s version of events, his daughter’s sympathetic description of her father, and the serious allegation that the police lied to justify arresting a member of the public. Of particular interest is that the police spokesperson did not comment about the “multiple witnesses”. They did not confirm if details and statements were taken despite the serious allegations made by both the police officer and his alleged victim.
  • glossed over how the victim got out of his car. His daughter said he was “pulled” out by officers, the police spokesperson used neutral language to say he “exited the vehicle”
  • downplayed the incident. The police described it as a mere “struggle”. Again, this neutral language belies the apparent extreme violence of the incident, during which the victim’s daughter says he needed hospital treatment for a “broken nose, broken cheek bone/ eye socket and deep cuts to his head and other injuries.” The victim’s photograph in the article appears to back this up.
  • failed to mention if body worn video, custody suite CCTV, and other recordings were made and/ or preserved. The victim’s “mug shot” (which might have shown his injuries or lack thereof), was also not disclosed to The Independent.
  • avoided inflaming the situation by not stating if the man was charged with an offence.
  • tried to get public sympathy by alleging that the 70-year-old-man attacked the officer causing an unspecified injury to his eye. This was done without offering any evidence, such as body worn video or photographs of the officer to support these serious allegations.
  • noted that the victim was arrested for assaulting “an emergency worker”, without saying who that was or which branch of the emergency services they came from.
  • portrayed the police in a positive light, describing how officers gave the victim first aid, got him to hospital, and released him after an investigation.

More Spin : Why the Police Now Call Themselves “Emergency Workers”

This story, and the police’s handling of it, is based in an allegation of assaulting an “emergency worker”. While we do not know who that was, it stands to reason that the victim was charged with assaulting a police officer, who was probably the arresting officer. (The victim’s daughter showed a photo of the officer involved in her Instagram post.)

I expect that the term “emergency worker” for the police officer was used on purpose. This is because:

  • it gets public sympathy. As well as police officers, an “emergency worker” could be any number of people, including NHS staff, members of the fire service, and even members of search and rescue. The police spokesperson appears keen to portray officers in that well-regarded group to create cognitive dissonance in the reader’s mind. How can people we admire commit serious assaults on members of the public or lie to cover-up misconduct?
  • the police are keen to use the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 because, as solicitor Iain Gould describes here,
    • the criminal penalties for assaulting a police officer if they are classed as an “emergency worker” are much stiffer compared to being classed as mere “police officers”. This is because assaulting an “emergency worker” is an offence which carries a maximum sentence of 12 months’ imprisonment. It is a much more serious charge than “assaulting a police officer in the execution of their duty”. That is an offence under s.89 of the Police Act 1996 and carries a maximum sentence of six months’ imprisonment.
    • the legal test is lower for the police to justify their actions and secure a conviction. This is because an officer is only required to be acting in the “exercise of functions” instead of “acting in the course of his duty”. This subtle change in language makes it more likely that the victim could be convicted if the officers’ version of events is believed. This would vindicate the officer(s) involved, likely extinguish any potential civil compensation claim, and shut down a police misconduct investigation.

Why This Matters

The Metropolitan Police’s spokesperson has done a masterful job of handling this latest public relations crisis. Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former advisor and spin-doctor, would be proud.

But we should all be concerned. Officers and police forces up and down the land will be taking notes. If the Met’s approach is successful, they will use the same playbook.

So, I urge the public and media to carefully watch how the police and their press departments operate.

Public confidence in the police depends on good faith. Obfuscation and spin undermine it.

And, let’s not forget, behind the headlines is a 70-year-old man who has sustained serious injuries. And, if charged, his liberty is potentially at stake. For the man and his family, this is not a game.

 

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor with over 20 years’ experience representing victims of police misconduct.

Who Polices the Police?

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, a Chartered Legal Executive who discusses who polices the police

Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive, discusses who polices the police in this blog post.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

At first glance, these three police officers have little in common:

  • PC Benjamin Monk, who killed Dalian Atkinson
  • PC Wayne Couzens, who killed Sarah Everard
  • Sergeant Melvin Dawson, who allegedly assaulted my client.

But dig deeper and you’ll find that their cases highlight an important issue: despite what the police want you to think, misconduct investigations often fail to “police the police”.

Thankfully, there is an alternative system in place to help people get justice for police misconduct. Read on to find out:

  1. why police misconduct and disciplinary proceedings fail
  2. why we need an alternative
  3. what you should know about it.

PC Benjamin Monk (and his victim Dalian Atkinson)

Until very recently, PC Benjamin Monk was a West Mercia Police officer.

On 23 June he was sentenced to eight years in prison for the manslaughter of Dalian Atkinson, the former Aston Villa, Ipswich Town, and Sheffield Wednesday football player.

Before unlawfully killing Mr Atkinson, PC Monk (it appears, dishonestly) withheld details of cautions for theft and drunkenness.

Cautions are formal warnings given by the police to adults. They are admissions of guilt and must be disclosed by the person receiving them if they seek work in “notifiable occupations”, such as the police.

But Benjamin Monk failed to disclose his cautions when applying to become a police officer.

(The caution for theft would have been especially problematic because theft is an honesty offence. It probably would have prevented Monk from getting a job as a police officer.)

Mr Monk got lucky. West Mercia Police’s vetting procedures did not pick up the cautions, even though they are required to be recorded on the Police National Computer used by the force.

Nine years later the officer’s failure to disclose his cautions came to light. By this time, PC Monk was a member of an elite force operations support team and armed with a Taser.

In 2011 he faced a disciplinary misconduct panel which found that the serving officer had:

breached the required standards for honesty and integrity by not disclosing the offences.

The finding proved that he could not be trusted twice. He:

  1. committed the theft offence which resulted in a police caution
  2. failed to disclose both cautions when applying to the police.

But instead of dismissing PC Monk, the panel issued a final written warning and allowed him to keep his job.

Unlawful Killing of Dalian Atkinson by a West Mercia Police Officer

On 15 August 2016 PC Monk fatally assaulted Dalian Atkinson with a Taser for 33 excruciating seconds, six times longer than the standard procedure.

The (then) West Mercia Police officer then kicked Mr Atkinson twice in the head. The assaults were so hard that Monk’s shoelaces left marks in his victim’s head.

Tragically, Dalian Atkinson died from his injuries.

On 9 July, PC Monk was dismissed from the force. At his police misconduct hearing, Chief Constable Anthony Bangham said:

Given that PC Monk is now a serving prisoner, having been sentenced to a term of imprisonment of eight years, the only outcome is therefore dismissal without notice.

But, as West Mercia Police reported,

The outcome of the misconduct hearing is subject to the normal appeals process.

(As a side note, the force’s press release is misleading. It suggests that officers on the Barred List are prevented from serving in the police:

PC Monk will also be placed on the College of Policing Barred List and will not be employable within the UK Police Service.

But, as Kevin Donoghue points out in this blog post: What You Should Know About the Police Barred List, former police officers and other police staff can get their details removed in certain circumstances. Then they can be re-employed by the police if they satisfy other vetting procedures.  In Monk’s case, serving in future is very unlikely, but not impossible as stated by West Mercia Police.)

PC Wayne Couzens (and his victim Sarah Everard)

On 3 March 2021, this (now former) Metropolitan Police officer kidnapped, raped, and murdered Sarah Everard.

Just like PC Monk, he was allowed to continue serving in the police despite allegations of misconduct. The officer was accused of indecent exposure in 2015 in Kent, and February 2021 in London.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct is reviewing the police’s investigations and other matters relating to Sarah Everard’s case.

So far, it has issued 12 gross misconduct or misconduct notices.

Two of the notices relate to Metropolitan Police Service officers who are being investigated for:

failures to investigate two allegations of indecent exposure linked to PC Couzens in London in February 2021.

Sergeant Melvin Dawson (and his victim, my client)

This North Wales Police sergeant was accused of using force which was not “necessary, proportionate or reasonable in all the circumstances” against 15 detainees during 2018 and 2019.

A police disciplinary and misconduct panel heard that he was:

“quick on the draw” in spraying people, seemingly to punish them for being disruptive in their cells.

It was also alleged that Sergeant Dawson:

used Captor spray “closer than the minimum recommended distance, and from behind locked cell doors” on several occasions.

To back up these claims, the panel considered:

  • CCTV video and audio footage
  • live witness evidence (including from my client)
  • a Professional Standards Department report.

Despite the weight of evidence, the police misconduct panel found that Sergeant Dawson wrongly used PAVA captor spray (commonly known as “pepper spray”) in just one case.

He kept his job despite this finding of misconduct. Instead, the misconduct panel issued a written warning.

Why Police Misconduct Investigations Fail

All three police officers kept their jobs following:

  • reports and/ or
  • investigations and/ or
  • proven findings

about their misconduct.

Questions must be asked about why.

But even getting to the point where a misconduct hearing takes place is unusual.

This is because disciplinary misconduct panels hear cases against police officers only if considered necessary and justified by the police themselves.

In most cases, police officers are investigated by their own colleagues at “in-house” Professional Standards Departments. Police officer investigators:

  • handle reports of alleged misconduct
  • conduct investigations
  • prepare reports and make sanction recommendations.

This happens even in high profile cases. As the IOPC noted in the Sarah Everard case:

A total of nine other conduct referrals in relation to PC Couzens were made to us by the MPS which, following assessment, were sent back for local investigation by the force. Two of these were in relation to the kidnap, murder and rape of Sarah Everard and another concerned allegations of indecent exposure. As these matters are subject to investigation by the MPS it would be inappropriate for us to provide further details.

(My emphasis)

Professional Standards officers are supposed to “police the police”. Investigators are meant to be separate from other serving officers. But they may know the officers and police staff personally, especially in smaller forces.

Ask yourself, how can they be impartial?

It gets worse. Even if the investigating officers refer their fellow officers to disciplinary panels, those hearings are not what you might expect.

As the College of Policing’s guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings says, police misconduct disciplinary panel hearings are:

not designed to punish police officers.

Instead, they are employment proceedings rather than formal legal proceedings. This means that:

  1. panels hearing these cases are small. As Kevin Donoghue explains here, they are usually made up of only three people, and one of them is usually a senior police officer from the same force as the officer accused of misconduct
  2. the rules of evidence do not apply, and misconduct panels have wide discretion on how to deal with matters. For example, witnesses are rarely called, as disciplinary panels usually prefer to consider written evidence provided in Professional Standards Department reports.

How police misconduct disciplinary panels deal with witnesses

In my client’s case, she was called to give evidence before the misconduct panel convened to hear Sergeant Dawson’s case. This put her in the same room as her alleged attacker.

She bravely put herself in this stressful position to help North Wales Police hold Dawson to account, and I arranged for a colleague to attend with her.

My client expected questions about her experience. The panel was there to consider Sergeant Dawson’s alleged misconduct after all.

But instead, she says that the panel asked only why she had legal representation at the misconduct hearing.

In my client’s opinion, the panel avoided hearing negative things about Sergeant Dawson because they did not want to give him a harsher sanction.

Sure enough, the officer kept his job.

My client thinks that the written warning was little more than a “slap on the wrist”. She still cannot believe that the panel, which, it should be noted, included a senior officer from North Wales Police, found in favour of Sergeant Dawson in all but one incident, including her own case.

So, who really polices the police?

As these, and many other cases show, the police disciplinary and misconduct process is failing victims. In my nearly 15 years’ experience as a lawyer who helps people bring civil actions against the police, I have found that they are usually a waste of time.

But if the police cannot be trusted to police themselves, who can?

That is where lawyers like me and my colleagues come in. We hold the police to account when others fail to do so by fearlessly representing victims of police misconduct in civil court proceedings.

My client is recovering from Sergeant Dawson’s alleged assault. But she has suffered lasting physical and psychological personal injuries. If anything, the misconduct proceedings have given her more motivation to fight for justice in a civil action against the police.

By bringing civil claims, we aim to put clients in the pre-incident position. Courts cannot turn back time; but they can award compensation. In some cases, we also help our clients get:

  • formal written apologies
  • promises that lessons will be learned
  • other things.

(Find out more on this page: Remedies in Claims Against the Police.)

But the system is not perfect. For example:

  • as agents of the State police forces have (virtually) unlimited resources, unlike their victims
  • many judges and juries are pro-police, which can tip the scales in their favour
  • police forces, officers, and their lawyers use delaying and other tactics to undermine claims.

Despite these issues, as our case reports show, people can get justice in the civil courts when criminal and misconduct proceedings against officers fail.

We need them to.

We all benefit when brave victims of police misconduct stand up and fight for their rights. Because without them, no one polices the police.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors. Read more about him here.

What You Should Know About the Police Barred List

 

Photo of Solicitor Kevin Donoghue, who explains what to know about the police barred list.

Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, explains how the police barred list works and what you should know about it.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

When police officers are dismissed for gross misconduct their victims often express relief. They think that the officers will:

  1. never serve in the police again
  2. have their details added to a publicly-searchable barred list to protect others.

But, in many cases, neither of these things are true. Here I show that there are ways for disgraced former officers to:

  1. avoid getting their details added to the barred list (or associated advisory list), or
  2. to get off the lists and back into policing.

What is the police barred list?

The barred list came into effect under The Police Barred list and Police Advisory list Regulations (2017).

The list shows:

people who have been dismissed from policing through the Police Conduct and Performance Regulations.

The following people can have their details added to the Barred list:

  • police officers
  • special constables
  • police community support officers
  • police staff.

Once added, they are not eligible for employment by:

  • police forces in England and Wales
  • offices of Police and Crime Commissioners
  • Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire & Rescue Services
  • the Independent Office for Police Conduct.

Who is responsible for the barred list?

The barred list is maintained by the College of Policing, which describes itself as:

a professional body for everyone working across policing. It is an operationally independent arm’s-length body of the Home Office.

As well as the barred list, the College of Policing also maintains an advisory list.

What is the Police Advisory List?

The police advisory list is just as important as the barred list. It is:

a list of all officers, special constables and staff members who have resigned or retired during an investigation or who leave before an allegation comes to light. It also includes designated volunteers who have had their designated status withdrawn because of conduct or performance matters.

Section 88I of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 allows for:

  • police officers
  • special constables
  • community support or policing support volunteers
  • civilian employees

to have their details added to the advisory list.

What you should know about the barred and advisory lists

1. The barred list

You can search the public barred list here. But you might be wasting your time because there are many exceptions.

It is important to note that the Regulations only apply if police force members are dismissed after an investigation under the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 or Police (Performance) Regulations 2012.

And the public barred list:

  • only includes police officers and special constables
  • does not include PCSOs or police staff
  • holds information on the public list for five years only
  • is updated monthly, with names added by the end of the following month after dismissal
  • has exemptions for “national security, ongoing investigations and any significant harm which may be caused to the individual or others.”

These exceptions mean that the College of Policing’s “Search the barred list” website page is lacking, perhaps on purpose:

Screenshot of the Search the Barred List page.

The College of Policing’s Search the Barred List page lacks context.

2. The advisory list

The barred list is incomplete, but at least we can see it.

The advisory list is private, with no public access.

This means that former police staff can avoid having their details made public by resigning or retiring at any time before disciplinary proceedings are brought or concluded.

Misconduct proceedings take time to investigate, prepare, and deal with. I have represented clients in civil actions against the police for over 20 years. In my experience, officers frequently quit before disciplinary and misconduct hearings. That way they avoid appearing on the publicly-searchable barred list.

3. Both lists

Former police officers who are dismissed after a misconduct hearing can ask for anonymity when their details are added to the lists.

As this report in The Guardian shows, an officer who was found guilty of gross misconduct for racist comments:

would have been dismissed had he not resigned from the force.

The officer did not bother to attend the hearing. Instead, he:

instructed his Police Federation representative, Moray Anderson, to say the proceedings infringed his right to a private life under article eight of the Human Rights Act.

Anderson asked for Sgt X not to be named on the barred list to avoid the “public shame” this would lead to.

The Disciplinary Panel was swayed despite its serious finding and the former officer’s apparent contempt for the proceedings. Sergeant X was granted anonymity and his details will be kept private by the College of Policing.

4. Removal from the barred and advisory lists

This can happen in three ways:

a)     Automatic removal from the barred list

Regulation 8 of The Police Barred list and Police Advisory list Regulations 2017 says that certain people must have their details removed from the barred list automatically if:

  1. the person on the barred list was dismissed and had their details added to the list for “unsatisfactory performance (not amounting to gross incompetence) or unsatisfactory attendance”, and
  2. they were on the list for at least 12 months, or
  3. they die.

b)     Automatic removal of details from the advisory list

Former officers who resigned or retired before dismissal will get their details removed automatically from the advisory list if:

  1. their details were added for issues other than conduct, and
  2. they were on the list for at least five years, or
  3. they die.

c)     Discretionary removal of details from the barred and advisory lists

Former officers, special constables, PCSOs,  and police staff can apply to the College of Policing to have their names removed from the barred list after:

  • three years for performance matters
  • five years for conduct matters.

(The time period is five years for those on the advisory list.)

The removal process is flawed because the College of Policing:

will not review the reasons for the original dismissal, and will only consider whether it is proportionate for the individual to remain on the barred list. 

Instead, the College of Policing says the process involves:

taking into account a number of factors, including:

  • whether the individual has demonstrated their suitability to return to policing
  • the circumstances which led to the original decision/finding
  • the impact removing an individual’s barred status might have on public confidence in the police.

Barred and advisory list confusion

Perhaps understandably, some journalists reporting on policing issues do not seem to know how the barred and advisory lists work. Neither do the police, which is less forgivable.

For example, as this news report wrongly says:

A former West Midlands Police worker who was convicted of conspiring to supply drugs while off duty will never work in policing again, the force has said.

In that case Cherelle Ying, a former West Midlands Police officer, was convicted of conspiring to supply drugs. She resigned before being fired for gross misconduct. Her details were added to “a barred list” (which was probably the advisory list). The article’s writer said:

West Midlands Police confirmed she has also been placed on a barred list – meaning she will be unable to work in policing again.

I expect the reporter was quoting West Midlands Police’s own write-up, which says:

Ying resigned from the force in February this year ahead of a disciplinary panel on 8 April which found that Ying’s action amounted to gross misconduct and, had she not resigned, she would have been dismissed. She has also been placed on a barred list meaning she will be unable to work in policing again.

(my emphasis)

While it is very unlikely that Ms Ying will be re-admitted to the police, it is not an absolute as stated above. She could get back in if she can convince the College of Policing review panel and pass force vetting procedures.

Consequences for the public

These days, most companies conduct due diligence before hiring former police and staff. This includes internet searches. But they only work if the applicant’s misdeeds are published online.

Some police officers and staff get anonymity in disciplinary and misconduct hearings. And the failings of the barred and advisory lists mean that they can easily avoid negative publicity. Their reputations and employment prospects are unharmed.

Contrast that with people whose details are added to the Disclosure and Barring Service. As our clients Lisa McCullough and James Williams found, even the threat of being added to the DBS check list was frightening because it could end their careers in disgrace.

Eventually, some former officers and staff will get another police job. The government is committed to hiring 20,000 new officers by 2023. Recruiting is hard. Forces are under pressure to meet the target.

A former officer who convinces the College of Policing to remove their details from the barred or advisory lists would probably have better prospects than a rookie. All they need to do is wait out the three (or five) year period before applying. Because the Regulations took effect on 15 December 2017, some may have already done so.

The fact that former officers found guilty of gross misconduct can get back into policing means It is only a matter of time before their victims might see them in a uniform again. Situations like the one my colleague Daniel Fitzsimmons described here (Should a Criminal Conviction Prevent a Police Officer From Serving?) are even more likely.

The trauma for victims of police misconduct could be devastating.

And the failings of the barred and advisory lists undermine public confidence in the police.

Kevin Donoghue is the solicitor director of Donoghue Solicitors. Contact him here.

 

 

Five Ways Police Sexual Misconduct Goes Unchecked

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who explains how police sexual misconduct goes unchecked.

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue offers five reasons why police sexual misconduct goes unchecked in this blog post.

By Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

Recently BBC Woman’s Hour and Newsnight reported on the issue of police sexual misconduct, including sexual abuse within the police’s ranks.

Listen to their disturbing report on Woman’s Hour here.

Sadly, incidents of police sexual misconduct are not new.

In January 2017, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) reported that police abuse of position for a sexual purpose, which includes cases within the police’s own ranks, is a nationwide problem. I highlighted the issue here: Police Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose – No More Excuses.

And, in 2019, ITV reported on sexual abuse by police officers, which I wrote about here: Will an ITV Documentary Help End Sexual Abuse by Police Officers?

In the latest report by the BBC, the journalists made two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to learn more about how police officers abuse their positions of authority for sexual gain.

Among other things, the BBC’s FOIA reports showed how predatory police officers avoid accountability for sexually abusing their colleagues. They exploit failings in the system, including:

  1. the duty to report police misconduct and risk of bad faith accusations
  2. the lack of independent investigations into police sexual misconduct
  3. the Police Federation’s conflict of interest when representing both officers involved in sexual abuse cases
  4. the way police misconduct proceedings protect abusers’ identities
  5. how police forces avoid accountability by ignoring or avoiding legitimate FOIA requests.

Here I review the evidence found by the BBC and explain how this form of police officer corruption goes unchecked.

What the BBC Freedom of Information Act Reports Showed

  1. The first FOIA request for information from the police about sexual misconduct

The first FOIA request was a collaboration between Woman’s Hour and BBC Newsnight. It sought information about police sexual misconduct from all 46 police forces in the UK. Only 32 forces replied.

The request covered the past five years. It uncovered nearly 1,500 cases of police sexual misconduct.

But only 204 cases resulted in disciplinary action. As a result, a paltry:

  • 7% of the accused officers in the reported cases were dismissed
  • 7% were reprimanded but allowed to keep serving as police officers
  • 52 (or 3%) of the accused officers’ cases went to court.
  1. The second FOIA request

This FOIA request covered the last three years.

It also dealt with allegations of police sexual misconduct, which included serious criminal offences as well as matters which were serious enough to report but not regarded as crimes. These included:

Only 19 of the 46 forces responded to the second FOIA. Despite this small number, it revealed:

  • 29 rapes (including one of a child)
  • 149 sexual assaults (including during strip searches).

The FOIA responders described disturbing behaviour by the police including:

  • stalking
  • indecent exposure
  • revenge porn
  • two allegations of attempting to converse with a child or possessing or making indecent images of children.

Ruth’s Story of Sexual Abuse by a Police Officer

The figures uncovered by the BBC showed how police officers to abuse their power for sexual gain.

But it is important to remember that these are not just numbers. They account for real people whose lives have been changed by sexual abuse and misconduct.

The Woman’s Hour report brought the statistics to life through the story of “Ruth”, a former officer. Her interview described how victims of sexual abuse by colleagues in the police are mistreated, and why they may be reluctant to report.

You can listen to Ruth’s interview here or read my transcript:

I was a probationary officer and I’d worked with this male officer for several months.

We had got on well then on a works outing I got sexually assaulted by him.

He touched my chest multiple times saying, “you touch mine and I’ll touch yours.”

No one else saw and he was my line manager so I felt like I couldn’t say anything.

I felt violated.

I was really uncomfortable. I told my partner, and he was fuming.

Q. What happened next?

A. The next day I got a text from him saying, “hope you had a good time.”

I decided to reply saying he was inappropriate and if it happened again, I would report him.

He sent a text back apologising.

Q. Could you move on from that?

A. No. I didn’t want to work alongside him anymore. But when I told my superiors they said I was duty bound to say why.

When I did, they said I had to tell professional standards and make a complaint.

I said no. I didn’t want to risk my job.

I was eventually persuaded to speak to professional standards and was interviewed as an assault victim (only for professional standards I didn’t make a criminal complaint at that stage).

Q. What happened with professional standards?

A. By the time the hearing was due I had been transferred and found out that my new boss was a friend and colleague of the man who assaulted me.

He issued me with a development plan to improve my performance. I was upset as I believed there was nothing to justify this.

They said if I didn’t complete it, I would be marked as underperforming. In the same meeting they told me I wasn’t cut out to be a cop and they were extending my two-year probation period by four months. This felt to me more like a disciplinary than anything else.

Sometime later in training I was served with allegations about my honesty and integrity. This was a month before the misconduct hearing against my former line manager was due to be heard. I had to wait months to get full details.

I got served with 19 other allegations including that I’d lied about my health and that a back injury caused at work had actually happened in my own time.

At the time officers from the professional standards department would turn up unannounced when I was working.

I wasn’t allowed to get my Police Federation representative along.

The Federation was, of course, also supporting the man who assaulted me. I was pregnant at the time.

All of this made me very ill. I got depression and anxiety. I ended up going to hospital with stress at one time.?

Q. What was going on with the investigation into the other officer at this time?

A. His hearing was postponed four times. They were dealing with mine instead.

I kept being told I was not entitled to legal advice.

Eventually I got independent legal advice and I made a criminal complaint about the officer. But after a 12- month wait I was told there would be no further action saying it didn’t meet the evidential threshold to be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

It was over a year later that the professional standards hearing into the allegations about me took place and I was dismissed.

I couldn’t believe it.

I wrote to the Police and Crime Commissioner for backing but I never heard anything.

I didn’t know what to do.

Q. What happened to the officer you complained about?

A. He resigned but they still allowed him to give evidence at my hearing and make counter allegations. Now he has no stain on his character, but I am on the policing barred list. I can never be an officer and it’s all for something I didn’t do.

I can’t believe it. I got assaulted it was never dealt with and I lost my job. I’m now taking legal action.

Ruth’s story showed that sexual abuse within the police is a systemic and institutional issue. Others echoed her comments. One messaged the programme saying:

I was an officer with the Met. I was dismissed after I reported sexual assault.

Here are five reasons why police officers get away with abusing their colleagues:

1. The duty to report police sexual misconduct and risk of bad-faith accusations

The BBC’s second FOIA report noted that only 40% of police sexual misconduct investigations started with a report from a fellow officer. This is despite the fact that police officers must report misconduct by their colleagues when they see it. The police Code of Ethics says:

 I will report, challenge or take action against the conduct of colleagues which has fallen below the standards of professional behaviour.

It makes clear that:

You have a positive obligation to question the conduct of colleagues that you believe falls below the expected standards and, if necessary, challenge, report or take action against such conduct.

But:

You will not be supported, and may be subject to disciplinary procedures, if your report is found to be malicious or otherwise made in bad faith.

Many sexual assault or misconduct cases involve one person’s word against another. The chances of a “he-said-she-said” situation are great. The consequences for the innocent victim could be that they are accused of making a bad faith allegation. If their abuser is believed, they could suffer disciplinary action and even dismissal.

The conflict between the:

  1. duty to report, and
  2. risk of disciplinary action after being accused of making a bad faith accusation.

means that victims are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

No wonder only 40% of accusers came from within the police’s ranks.

2. The lack of independent investigations into police sexual misconduct

As Harriet Wistrich, director of the Centre for Womens’ Justice pointed out on Woman’s Hour:

Women are very reluctant to report sexual assault and other forms of misconduct to the police and that probably, almost certainly, is amplified where the alleged perpetrator is a police officer. Because who are they reporting to? To the police.

The Centre for Women’s Justice is pursuing a “super-complaint” looking into police abuse and sexual misconduct. Ms Wistrich says that they have had more than 150 women come forward since they launched the complaint.

One of the Centre’s recommendations is that there is:

 an independent reporting channel so that women have confidence to come forward and independent investigation because often the very same people who are investigating know the officers concerned, they are in the same police force (particularly in the smaller police forces) and this is very undermining of confidence.

This makes perfect sense. And yet the current system does not allow for it.

Instead, police force internal Professional Standards Departments investigate the bulk of sexual misconduct investigations. Only rarely does the Independent Office for Police Conduct get involved, as I described in this blog post: Are police sexual exploitation cases being brushed under the carpet?

3. Police Federation conflict of interest when representing both officers involved in sexual abuse cases

Ruth’s story also highlights the nonsensical situation where both the accused and accuser are represented by the same organisation.

Both police officers in her case were members of the Police Federation. The Federation, which is considered the police officers’ union, describes itself as:

the staff association for police constables, sergeants and inspectors (including chief inspectors), having first established in 1919.

We are one of the largest staff associations in the UK representing more than 130,000 rank and file officers.

Despite Ruth seeking the support of her union, it appears that the Police Federation sided with the accused officer and supported him throughout the disciplinary process. This could be because she was only a probationary officer, and he had a higher rank.

Someone also wrongly told her that she was not entitled to legal advice.

To her credit, Ruth got a second opinion and brought a criminal complaint. But the Crown Prosecution Service evidently felt that the criminal standard of proof could not be met. To do this, the court would have to find beyond reasonable doubt that the officer Ruth accused was guilty of a criminal offence.

Ruth said that “no one else saw” what happened. It is likely that the “he-said-she-said” nature of her case was a factor in the CPS’s decision not to prosecute.

Contrast a criminal case with police misconduct and disciplinary proceedings. They are conducted on the civil standard, also known as “the balance of probabilities”. Police Misconduct Panels must decide if it is more probable than not that the allegations are made out. Perhaps that is why the officer who assaulted Ruth resigned before taking the chance of being sacked at a misconduct hearing.

4. The way police misconduct proceedings protect abusers’ identities

In my previous blog post you can read how the Police (Conduct) Regulations help cover up sexual abuse by protecting the anonymity of sexual abuser police officers and their employer police forces.

The Regulations allow for anyone involved in the proceedings, including police officers accused of sexual misconduct and their police force employers, to seek orders from the Police Misconduct Panel. Orders can protect the identity of the officers involved by:

  • preventing public and media access to disciplinary hearings,
  • limiting the use of live witness evidence, and
  • putting publicity restrictions on cases, anonymising details of the police officers involved.

Police sexual abuse is one of the most serious forms of corruption and gross misconduct. The Police Conduct Regulations and Misconduct Panels can help it get “brushed under the carpet”.

5. How police forces avoid accountability by ignoring or avoiding legitimate Freedom of Information Act requests.

It is telling that both FOIA requests filed by the BBC had low participation rates from the police:

  • fewer than 70% of police forces responded to the first FOIA request
  • only 41% of them responded to the second request.

The forces which failed to respond either:

  • did not meet the deadline, or
  • said it was too costly to provide the information.

Neither of these excuses pass the smell test. Police forces are well-resourced and familiar with the FOIA process. If some forces can provide the information, then all can.

A failure to respond, or accurately report, suggests that forces have a wider problem with police sexual abuse and misconduct. But by concealing the extent of the problem, they make it easier for sexual abusers within their ranks to continue their corrupt behaviour.

Public Confidence Impact

The numbers reported by the BBC should be considered an undercount for two reasons:

  1. the responding forces will not have included every instance. As Ruth’s story showed, officers are reluctant to report misconduct by their colleagues.
  2. the investigation uncovered nearly 1,500 instances of police sexual misconduct. It stands to reason that this is a bigger problem. This is because about 30% of forces in the first FOIA request and nearly 60% of forces in the second FOIA request failed to answer.

Police forces have no excuse for allowing this serious form of corruption to continue. Chief Constables:

  • undermine public confidence in their forces, and
  • damage morale within their ranks

by enabling police officers who abuse their power for sexual gain.

And, as Ruth’s story showed, the personal and professional toll can be devastating.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in police abuse of authority for sexual gain compensation claims.

 

 

How the Police Conduct Regulations Help Cover Up Sexual Abuse

 

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue discusses the Police Conduct Regulations and how they can be used to cover up sexual abuse here.

Solicitor Kevin Donoghue explains how the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 can be used to cover up sexual abuse.

By Kevin Donoghue, solicitor

Last week I went to BBC Television Centre in London for an interview with Newsnight’s Yasminara Khan. My client “Sara” and I helped with a story about how police deal with sexual abusers within their ranks.

The piece was aired on Newsnight on Wednesday night. Watch it by clicking on the iPlayer link below:

A longer discussion about police sexual misconduct was part of BBC Radio’s Woman’s Hour on Tuesday.

Among other things, we discussed how officers and forces involved in police misconduct proceedings can cover up police abuse of position for a sexual purpose.

This is how the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 help them do it.

What is Police Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose

Police abuse of position for a sexual purpose (also known as police abuse of authority for sexual gain) has been described by HMICFRS Inspector Mike Cunningham as the “most serious” form of corruption within the police.

It is defined as:

“Any behaviour by a police officer or police staff member, whether on or off duty, that takes advantage of their position as a member of the police service to misuse their position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public.

This includes: committing a sexual act, initiating sexual contact with, or responding to any perceived sexually motivated behaviour from another person; entering into any communication that could be perceived as sexually motivated or lewd; or for any other sexual purpose.”

As I explained in my blog post: Police Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose – No More Excuses, it is a nationwide problem. It affected all but one police force in 2017.

And, as Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found:

  • 40% of allegations involved vulnerable victims of crime
  • less than half (48%) of all the police sexual exploitation cases it identified were reported to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (now Independent Office for Police Conduct) for an independent investigation
  • between 1 December 2013 and 30 November 2014 only 33 officers had been dismissed after having a relationship with a vulnerable person. This “apparent disconnect” between the number of alleged cases and disciplinary action means that some of these predators are still serving with the police, giving them the opportunity to repeat their misconduct.

Why is Police Sexual Abuse Grounds for Dismissal for Gross Misconduct

Gross misconduct by the police is defined as:

a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious that dismissal would be justified.

Police abuse of authority for a sexual purpose clearly fits within that definition and is strong grounds for immediate dismissal from the police. As Inspector Cunningham said:

“Make no mistake about it, the sexual exploitation of vulnerable women is corruption. It is using authority for personal gain, which is a definition of corruption.

“It is the most serious corruption problem in the sense that it is the ultimate betrayal of trust, where the guardian becomes the abuser. That is what we are seeing in these cases, and we’re seeing too many.”

Dismissal for this form of corruption is considered at police misconduct hearings.

What are Police Misconduct Hearings?

Police misconduct hearings are the way allegations of misconduct are dealt with by police forces.

Douglas Readings, a Chair of Police Misconduct Hearings, explains here that:

The Police Misconduct Hearing is unique. It combines features of a number of judicial and quasi-judicial bodies. It is both inquisitorial and adversarial. It is not part of HMCTS.

Who is Involved in Misconduct Hearings?

Police misconduct hearings are set up in a way many people will recognize from court t.v. dramas, even though, as Mr Readings says, they are not formal court proceedings.

Often there are three “judges” in these hearings. The “Misconduct Hearing Panel” is usually made up of:

  • a legally-qualified chair
  • a senior police officer (Superintendent, Chief Superintendent, or higher ranked officer)
  • a lay person.

The “prosecutor” is a senior police officer within the force, known as the “Appropriate Authority”. That officer works within the force’s Professional Standards Department. They take statements and prepare a report which is used by those involved in the misconduct hearing to consider the case against the accused officer.

The Appropriate Authority usually instructs a trained lawyer to present the case.

The “defendant” police officer is usually represented by counsel too, and often accompanied by a member of the police officers’ union, the Police Federation.

Witnesses are rarely called because they have already given evidence to the Professional Standards Department which is included in the Appropriate Authority’s report.

Despite this, the Panel has the power to ask witnesses to attend in person. It might do this if there is a fact in dispute which must be resolved before considering sanctions against the officer.

Why Police Misconduct Hearings Should Be Public

As I previously described in this blog post: How police ignore guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings, “misconduct proceedings are not designed to punish police officers”.

Instead, as Mr Readings notes, sanctions at police misconduct hearings are intended to:

  • protect the public,
  • maintain public confidence in the police service, and
  • uphold high standards in policing and deter misconduct.

Misconduct hearings ought to be public for these reasons too. But often they are not, because of the way those involved can use the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020, the law which applies to these proceedings.

How the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 Deal with Police Misconduct Hearings

Police misconduct hearings are governed by strict rules set out in The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020.

The law came into force on 1 February 2020.

Among other things, it describes how police forces may (but do not have to) publicise full details of the officer involved, including allegations of misconduct in advance (my emphasis is in bold throughout):

36.—(1) The person chairing a misconduct hearing (“the chair”) may require the appropriate authority or, as the case may be, the originating authority, to give notice of the hearing which contains information relating to one or more of—

(a)the name of the officer concerned;

(b)the date of the hearing;

(c)the time of the hearing;

(d)the place at which the hearing will take place, and

(e)the conduct that is the subject matter of the case and how that conduct is alleged to amount to misconduct or gross misconduct, as the case may be, as set out in the notice given in accordance with regulation 30(1)(a).

(2) Where the chair requires notice to be given in accordance with paragraph (1), the appropriate authority or, as the case may be, the originating authority, must publish the notice on its website as soon as practicable after notice of the hearing is given under regulation 35(1).

 

There are many exceptions to the basic principle about publicity, which is why s.36(1) is a “may” not a “shall” rule.

Section 36 also makes clear that anyone involved, including the accused officer and their police force employers, can seek to vary the publicity requirements described above or exclude someone from attending:

(3) Any person to whom this paragraph applies may make written representations to the chair in relation to—

(a)whether, and (if so) the extent to which, the chair should exclude any person from the whole or part of the hearing under regulation 39(3)(a);

(b)whether the chair should impose any conditions under regulation 39(3)(b);

(c)whether the chair should give directions prohibiting the publication of any matter relating to the proceedings under regulation 39(3)(c);

(d)in the light of the representations made under sub-paragraphs (a) to (c)—

(i)whether the chair should require notice to be given under paragraph (1);

(ii)which types of information mentioned in paragraph (1)(a) to (e) should be included in any such notice.

(4) Paragraph (3) applies to—

(a)the officer concerned;

(b)the appropriate authority or, as the case may be, the originating authority;

(c)the complainant;

(d)any interested person;

(e)any witness, and

(f)the Director General.

When read with section 39 below, it is easy to see how the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 help undermine the presumption of publicity.  It means that accused police officers and/or their force employers can have misconduct hearings:

  • in private
  • with limited attendance by excluding victims, journalists, and other interested parties
  • set up to limit or exclude witnesses from the proceedings
  • without publicity before, during, or after the hearing. This last point can be justified on shockingly vague grounds:

Reporting restrictions, participation and exclusions from proceedings

39.—(1) Subject to paragraph (3), a misconduct hearing must be in public.

(2) Subject to regulations 38 and 40, a misconduct meeting must be in private.

(3) Having considered any representations received under regulations 33(8)(f), 36(3) and 36(5), the person conducting or chairing the misconduct proceedings may—

(a)in relation to the attendance at the proceedings of a person under regulation 40 or this regulation, exclude any person as they see fit from the whole or a part of those proceedings;

(b)impose such conditions as they see fit relating to the attendance under regulation 40 or this regulation of any person at the proceedings in order to facilitate the proper conduct of those proceedings, and

(c)in the case of a chair appointed under regulation 28(4), give such directions as they think appropriate prohibiting the publication of any matter relating to the proceedings.

(4) Where it appears to the person conducting or chairing the misconduct proceedings that any person may, in giving evidence, disclose information which ought not to be disclosed to any person, other than a party to the proceedings, attending the proceedings because it is information to which paragraph (7) applies, they must require such attendees to withdraw while the evidence is given.

(5) Subject to any contrary decision by the person conducting or chairing a misconduct meeting, a witness other than a complainant, interested person or the officer concerned may only attend the misconduct meeting for the purpose of giving their evidence.

(6) Where a person is to give evidence as a witness at misconduct proceedings, the witness (and any person accompanying the witness) must not be allowed to attend the proceedings before giving evidence.

(7) This paragraph applies to information in so far as the person conducting or chairing the misconduct proceedings considers that preventing disclosure of it to an attendee is—

(a)necessary for the purpose of preventing the premature or inappropriate disclosure of information that is relevant to, or may be used in, any criminal proceedings;

(b)necessary in the interests of national security;

(c)necessary for the purpose of the prevention or detection of crime, or the apprehension or prosecution of offenders;

(d)necessary for the purpose of the prevention or detection of misconduct by other police officers or police staff members or their apprehension for such matters;

(e)necessary and proportionate for the protection of the welfare and safety of any informant or witness;

(f)otherwise in the public interest.

How the Police use the Law to Hide Gross Misconduct

The exceptions outlined above mean that, in practice, police forces and their officers easily avoid publicity, and with it, public scrutiny and accountability.

For example, West Mercia Police describes the purpose of public hearings on their website:

Misconduct hearings are held to present the facts of the case and allow the person to give an explanation of their conduct and the circumstances surrounding the allegation. Witnesses may also be called to give evidence.

The purpose of a public hearing is to show that our disciplinary system is open and transparent. It will demonstrate that we do hold officers who breach the standards of professional behaviour, or those where misconduct is found proven, accountable for their actions.

While that sounds good, the force then explains how it puts obstacles in the way of making the system “open and transparent”:

  1. it allocates places at misconduct hearings on a first-come-first-served basis.
  2. the public must apply using a booking form.
  3.  “the Chair may also decide to impose other conditions before or during the hearing.”
  4. “Sometimes a misconduct hearing is not held in public or only a part is heard in public. To decide this, the Chair takes into account:
  • national security
  • whether it interferes with the prevention or detection of crime
  • the welfare of parties involved

If the Chair decides that the evidence to be given by a witness or anyone else should not be disclosed in public, they’ll ask that the public be removed from the hearing.”

How Police Use the Publicity Exceptions Cover Up Misconduct

The effect of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 publicity exceptions can be found in notices the police issue about misconduct hearings.

West Mercia Police’s website shows how it’s done:

Notice of a misconduct hearing for Police Officer

IN THE MATTER OF THE POLICE (CONDUCT) REGULATIONS 2020
AND IN THE MATTER OF A West Mercia Police Officer.
PUBLICITY NOTICE

On the 7th – 16th July 2021 at 1000hrs, a Misconduct Hearing under the provisions of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 will take place in Worcester in relation to a West Mercia Police Officer.

The officer will answer allegations that his conduct amounted to a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour, namely;

Authority, Respect and Courtesy

BREACHES OF THE STANDARDS OF PROFESSIONAL BEHAVIOUR

It is alleged that the officer’s actions were in breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour.

If proved, it is contended that the officer’s actions singularly or in their totality amounted to gross misconduct.

The chair of the meeting, Mr Callum Cowx has directed that anonymity and reporting restrictions are to be granted to the police officer, but that this shall be revisited in the event of a finding adverse to the officer.

If you wish to attend, please go to our ‘Upcoming misconduct hearings page’ and click the ‘Start’ button.

(my emphasis in bold)

The effect of this notice is that the officer’s anonymity is protected by the Chair despite an allegation of gross misconduct, which isso serious that dismissal would be justified.”

Any media report will not include their details before or during the proceedings. Restrictions may only be lifted after the hearing “in the event of a finding adverse to the officer”, and then only at the Chair’s discretion.

How Anonymity Affects Victims of Police Sexual Abuse

For victims of sexual abuse this veil of anonymity means that:

  1. they do not get to talk about what happened publicly.

As Yasminara Khan said in the BBC Newsnight report:

“We understand a detective handling Sara’s case told her she could not discuss what happened to her with friends, family, colleagues or in fact anyone other than medical professionals or her counsellor.

The reporting restrictions mean Sara cannot report what happened at the misconduct hearing but she feels the limits of those restrictions haven’t been made clear and that she’s been left without closure.”

And, as my client explained:

“I feel like I’m not able to talk about this, they have emphasized that I can only talk to either law professionals or mental health professionals, and I don’t understand why.I need to be able to talk to people. I can’t talk to my family, I can’t talk to my friends – I’m not allowed”

  1. other victims are unlikely to find out about the disciplinary proceedings unless the reporting restrictions are lifted. This means that serial sexual abuser police officers (and their employers) may never account for the full extent of their crimes. As Sara said:

“I feel like when I initially reported him, I wanted not just justice for myself, but to safeguard others – that was my main motivator and now as time’s gone on throughout the investigation I’ve been made to feel like I’m being punished for telling the truth, if that makes sense. I don’t think the justice was enough”

Public Accountability Avoided

Ms Khan noted in her report that victims are rarely named in sexual abuse cases. Neither are the officers.

The effect of the Police Conduct Regulations is that corrupt police officers, and the forces that enabled them, can use the law to avoid public accountability.

I don’t know if the officer involved in the West Mercia Police case above is accused of such serious and corrupt misconduct as police abuse of position for a sexual purpose.

He or she may not be. We may never know.

And that’s the point.

Kevin Donoghue is a solicitor who specialises in police abuse of authority for sexual gain compensation claims.

 

Five Ways Online Reviews Help Clients and Solicitors

Photo of Daniel Fitzsimmons, a Chartered Legal Executive, who discusses online reviews

Many in the legal profession have been slow to adopt online reviews. Daniel Fitzsimmons explains why Donoghue Solicitors embraces them.

By Daniel Fitzsimmons, Chartered Legal Executive

It’s a fact. People leave and read online reviews of law firms. A recent report from a company in the USA found that 81% of consumers look at lawyers’ reviews and think they are important. (The numbers are even higher for other products or services.)

My firm has been listed on many online customer review sites for years. You can read genuine reviews of Donoghue solicitors on:

·       Google

·       Facebook

·       Freeindex

·       the reviews page of our website.

As a law firm based in Liverpool which represents clients throughout England and Wales, we’re happy to be found through internet search engines, review platforms, social media etc. to engage with reviewers.

We have found that the internet is a valuable way potential clients from all over can learn more about us and how we treat people.

Online Reviews Trial

The legal profession has slowly woken up to the reality that online reviews are being left and read.

Recently the SRA, Council for Licensed Conveyancers and CILEx Regulation began a pilot scheme working with comparison sites and about 70 law firms who volunteered to be part of the experiment.

The trial:

“aims to increase the amount of easily accessible, comparable information on the quality of legal services providers which is available to the public.”

It is ongoing and the results are unknown. Despite this, another legal standards regulator, the Legal Services Board, is considering forcing law firms to sign up for review websites.

The Law Society Gazette reports that a paper in support of the possible requirement says:

“action is needed to ‘catalyse’ change in the legal market.”

Some commenters on the Gazette article make clear their disgust at being forced to sign up:

Anonymous Commented on:9 June 2021 4:23am

This really hits the bottom of regulatory stupidity. After which we know that they will start to dig.

Anonymous Commented on:8 June 2021 9:40am

Out of curiosity, is there any other trade, profession or occupation in the UK for which a listing on a comparison website is mandatory?

I suspect that Joe Public’s ‘problem’ with solicitors is that solicitors are very rarely needed in most people’s lives, so when they do need one they haven’t a clue where to go. And what we do is technical, dull stuff which most people don’t understand except in terms of the outcome (claim won, house bought … but none of the palaver to get to the outcome).

Anonymous Commented on:8 June 2021 8:31am

If this comes to pass, we will in due course inform the LSB that we have no intention whatsoever of pandering to such an absurd diktat.

The LSB (and its “subsidiaries”) has lost all touch with reality and appears to exist entirely for its own benefit.

While I agree with the view that solicitors’ firms should not be forced into any form of marketing, let alone one which is so time and money hungry as online review management, internet-based reviews have their place.

Here are five reasons why they help solicitors and clients alike:

1. Reviews let us know how we are doing

Clients are free to leave reviews on many websites, including those I listed earlier, at any time. All it takes is a few taps or clicks.

We encourage reviews because they give us valuable information about how we are performing as a firm and individually.

If our client’s leave positive reviews and go away from the case satisfied, then we can be too. We use the positive things we learned to help others.

Equally, negative comments and fewer-than-five-star reviews can help us improve.

2. Online reviews help reassure potential clients if they instruct us

One reason we’re so keen on online reviews at Donoghue Solicitors is that we use them too.

I often read reviews and star ratings on sites like:

  • Tripadvisor, before booking holidays
  • Amazon, when buying electronics
  • Google, when booking restaurants.

Our clients do the same when researching law firms. For most people, instructing a solicitor is an unusual event. Getting reassurance from others about a firm and its lawyers can help put their minds at rest.

This form of “social proof” helps generate both local business and clients from further afield.

I often talk to new clients who tell me they got in touch because of our online reviews. I’m glad my clients read the reviews, because it helps them get a sense of the firm and its people, and what kind of customer experience they can expect.

3. Reviews show the limits of what we can do and who we can help

Like all businesses, we get the occasional negative review. More often than not, these are from people who asked us to represent them, but we could not help. Often this is because of resources, merits, or other reasons which you can read about in my colleague Kevin Donoghue’s blog post: Why won’t a solicitor take my no win no fee claim?

We respond to bad reviews by explaining the situation. This is for:

  1. the benefit of the person leaving the review, and
  2. others who may be thinking about using our firm.

By responding to negative reviews fully we hope to:

  1. reassure the person who left the negative review that we were genuine in our reasons, and
  2. save others the time and effort of contacting us if our firm is not suitable for their needs. (There are plenty of other lawyers out there who might be able to help. We recommend the Law Society’s free Find a Solicitor service.)

4. Reviews help us fulfil our regulatory burdens

Despite our enthusiasm for internet marketing, Donoghue Solicitors is not required to have an online presence.

One reason is because we are not bound by the SRA’s transparency rules.

The SRA is promoting transparency rules on service and pricing for conveyancers and employment lawyers, among others. It expects firms which offer those services to publish details online (if they have websites).

The regulator has not yet forced such rules on compensation claims lawyers like me and my colleagues. But I expect it’s only a matter of time, and getting online reviews now helps us prepare.

5. Internet reviews inspire us to keep going in the hard times

Like all jobs, there are good and bad days in the law. Getting a positive online review when things are tough can be the tonic we need.

Recently one of my clients left this review on Google, for which I’m truly grateful:

Matthew Kirtley

 23 hours ago

My tremendous thanks to Daniel Fitzsimmons and the Donoghue Solicitors team for their work on my claim. Along with being friendly, Daniel’s expertise really has shone through. Daniel was able to break down my story and clearly lay out what I should be looking to claim for, and then proceeded to set out a clear plan of action for gathering evidence and preparing my claim. Throughout my time as a client Daniel kept me clearly informed as to the status of my claim and the path going forward. When it came to dealing with my opponent, Daniel was an excellent negotiator. Daniel pushed firmly on my behalf, clearly anticipating my opponent’s responses and seeing through their attempts to deflect and undermine my claim. As a result, Daniel secured an excellent settlement from my opponent. He negotiated a much larger compensation package than anticipated through his persistence, and also obtained a written apology and several other important concessions. A fantastic outcome. Daniel genuinely believed in the merits of my case and was clearly motivated by a desire to secure justice. He’s a friendly, principled, and extremely capable solicitor and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend him. He and the team at Donoghue Solicitors have been exceptional, and represent the best side of the legal profession.

Positive Impact of Online Reviews

I understand the legal profession’s reluctance to embrace online reviews. No one like to be criticized, and there are real problems with fake reviews, review site manipulation of rankings, and other questionable practices.

On the whole though, the positives outweigh the negatives, for both clients and lawyers alike.

Daniel Fitzsimmons is a Chartered Legal Executive at Donoghue Solicitors. Contact him here.