“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:
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:
- her interactions with DCI James Mason
- 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:
- Authority, Respect, and Courtesy
- Integrity, Authority, Respect, and Courtesy
- 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
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
- 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:
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.
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.