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.