Earlier this week I wrote about why my client Kristina O’Connor bravely chose to waive her right to anonymity. In the blog post Why Kristina O’Connor Went Public in Her Cases Against the Police I described:
- Metropolitan Police Officer DCI James Mason’s proven gross misconduct
- the consequences for this senior officer and my client
- what Ms O’Connor has done since, including bringing a civil action against the police for damages and seeking a judicial review.
Kristina did not want to tell her story publicly at first. But she was determined to bring attention to her experience to seek real change in the police. She felt she had no alternative but to come forward after seeing the way DCI Mason’s case was handled by the Met’s Professional Standards investigators and the generous treatment the officer received from one of the Force’s Misconduct and Disciplinary Panels.
Her decision to break cover may be one of the most effective tools she, and other victims of police misconduct, can deploy. This is why.
Police Misconduct Panel Unfairness
As I explained in this blog post (How Metropolitan Police Disciplinary Misconduct Panels Work) police Misconduct Panels are extraordinarily powerful bodies, whose role in keeping the police in line is widely misunderstood.
Three things to keep in mind are that they are not:
- set up to punish police officers. Rather, they are intended to maintain public confidence. (Despite this aim, in the blog post How Disingenuous Comments by the Police Undermine Public Confidence I show how comments from T/DAC Javid, the Met’s Professional Standards lead, undermine it.)
- court proceedings before a judge and/or jury. A misconduct Panel is usually made up of three people, often including an officer from the same force as the person accused of misconduct, as happened in DCI Mason’s case.
- bound by normal rules of evidence. Panels can choose whether to call witnesses, anonymise officers’ details, consider supportive character references etc. As I explain in my blog post (Why Institutional Misogyny Thrives in the Metropolitan Police) officers can use these lax rules to game the system.
The effect of these, and other factors, meant that DCI James Mason avoided dismissal. The Panel approved a final written warning, which will remain on his record for three years (from 5 October 2021).
The Panel considered aggravating and mitigating circumstances in the case when making this decision. It felt that:
- “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.”
- there were “no learning points” from the investigation or preparation of the case.
My client was shocked with this “slap on the wrist”, especially when you consider that gross misconduct was proven eight times. This is:
a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious as to justify dismissal from the force.
Is it any wonder that, as Channel 4’s Dispatches programme ”Cops on Trial” found, almost 2,000 police workers have been accused of sexual misconduct in the past four years? Despite this, only 8% of misconduct claims led to a dismissal.
Promotion After Gross Misconduct in the Metropolitan Police
I expect DCI Mason celebrated after his misconduct Hearing. He probably thought he’d got away with it. He kept his high-profile job in the Metropolitan Police with no change in rank, pension, or other benefits.
Mason also knew that he would only have to keep out of trouble for three years, at which point the final written warning would expire.
- Will DCI Mason be required to take any tests prior to any promotion, or will he automatically be eligible for promotion after three years?
Please note that for any officer that has already passed the promotion process there is no extra assessment that needs to be taken once the written warning and its conditions have expired.
Contrast DCI Mason’s treatment with that of my client, who was left “exhausted” and depressed by Mason’s proven misconduct.
But, like all my clients who have suffered at the hands of the police, Kristina O’Connor did not give up. As my colleague Daniel Fitzsimmons noted in his blog post Who Polices the Police? it is often the victims of police misconduct who step forward when the system fails. By bringing a civil action against the police With my help, Kristina hopes to hold DCI Mason and the Metropolitan Police to account in an impartial, fair, legal forum.
Despite the Metropolitan Police Misconduct Panel’s best efforts, Kristina’s decision to go public will have both immediate and long-lasting consequences.
DCI James Mason was, I expect, highly regarded within the Met. He serves in the elite “Flying Squad” and received a commendation for “extraordinary leadership, professional resilience and dedication” after the Westminster terror attack in 2018.
None of that matters now.
Mason’s proven gross misconduct has destroyed his reputation and heaped pressure on Commissioner Cressida Dick and her Force.
Internet searches show why the old adage that “today’s news is tomorrow’s chip paper” is no longer true. Even the Met’s slick press department (read why I call them that here: Revealed: How Police Spin Doctors Work) would find that there’s too much to scrub with a bit of good PR. This makes publicity a more effective sanction than anything the misconduct Panel dished out.
Consider the following:
- A Google UK “incognito” search (which excludes previous search activity) for “DCI James Mason” produces 659,000 results. Many are irrelevant. But the first page of Google shows what he is known for now. All results relate to his gross misconduct:
- Google Trends over the past year shows spikes for searches for “DCI James Mason” in October 2021 (when he was before the Misconduct Panel) and February 2022 (when my client came forward). This shows that people are actively searching for Mason and reading about what he did:
- A Google UK incognito image search shows DCI James Mason at position two, on the first row. This matters because the public can put a face to the name. It is interesting to note that the sixth image across is of former Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens, who was convicted of the kidnap, rape, and murder of Sarah Everard. Some company to keep:
- DCI James Mason’s name is also quoted extensively on Twitter, Facebook, and online forums (such as in this forum thread which is entitled “Police committing sexual crimes”). I can’t find anyone willing to defend him. An example of the things people are saying on social media is from Graham Sutton, “a retired paediatric audiologist”. He calls DCI Mason a “creep”, and says the Met should be disbanded:
Impact on Cressida Dick and the Metropolitan Police
DCI Mason destroyed his own reputation. He will have to live with that. But the consequences for the Metropolitan Police are broader. After so many other recent scandals involving the Met, exposing DCI Mason’s misconduct has heaped even more pressure on his boss, Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick.
If it wasn’t before, her judgement must surely be in question. This is because Mason was one of her senior staff officers before joining the Flying Squad. His role included supporting Dick at meetings with the Mayor of London. She must be regretting that choice and the Panel’s decision to let him keep his job. As the most senior officer in the Met, the buck stops with her.
If Mason had been dismissed, she could have used the Panel’s decision to show how tough the Met can be on police officers who seek to abuse their authority for sexual gain. Instead, DCI Mason’s proven gross misconduct has highlighted:
- Cressida Dick’s poor judgment and inability to uphold Sir Robert Peel’s Principles of Policing
- the toxic culture she has allowed to fester within the Met, which resulted in Mason’s misconduct as proven in emails to my client, including ones that said “coming onto victims is positively encouraged by the Metropolitan Police”, but that rejecting officers’ advances is “frowned upon”
- the failings of the Met’s misconduct panels and the impact their decisions have on public confidence.
Incentive to Change
Kristina O’Connor hoped to create real, meaningful change within the Met by coming forward publicly. In response to her story, the I reports that:
A spokesperson for the Met said it recognises the “need for real change”.
“We are committed to creating an environment that is intolerant to those who do not uphold the high values and standards expected of us.”
If the Metropolitan Police Service doesn’t follow through with this for the sake of victims and the public, perhaps damage to the reputations of individual officers, their bosses, and the Force will make it happen.
Kevin Donoghue, solicitor, specialises in civil actions against the police. Contact him here.
Update at 8pm on 10 February 2022:
Four hours after publishing this blog post Dame Cressida Dick resigned from her position.
Among other things, her statement says that:
I’m incredibly proud of my team and all they have achieved.
The public depend on you, for your professionalism, courage, compassion and integrity.
I wonder if she had DCI Mason in mind when she wrote that?