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.