Sexism in the Police force goes way beyond the Met

The failings of the Metropolitan Police with regard to the murder of Sarah Everard have been well documented over the past few days. Our Wendy Chamberlain, the only woman in the Commons to have been a serving Police officer, has been absolutely brilliant in highlighting the need for change in the force.

But the institutional sexism goes way beyond the Police. Former Nottinghamshire Chief Constable Sue Fish described yesterday how she didn’t dare report sexual assault by a colleague for fear of the consequences for them and, even more disturbingly she recounted:

that she had a senior colleague that was arrested and jailed for having sex with a “vulnerable” woman during his shift.

She said she would be left, as a young probationary officer, driving a marked car around in circles while her older colleague – nicknamed ‘Pervert’ – would visit the house of a woman he met on the job.

And an employment tribunal has found “horrific” examples of a sexist culture in a Police Scotland armed policing unit. The BBC reports some of the indignities that women officers in that unit had to put up with.

In its judgement, the tribunal accepted evidence that there was an “absolute boys’ club culture” within the ARV which was “horrific”. It also found:

  • Sgt Rachel Coates, a former colleague of Ms Malone, was told by the chief firearms instructor that women should not become AFOs “because they menstruated and that affected their temperament”.

  • When Sgt Coates asked if women AFOs could wear trousers and a top, rather than a one-piece, so it would be easier to go to the toilet, the chief firearms instructor swore at her.

  • Insp Warhurst posted images of topless women to a WhatsApp group of male sergeants within the Fettes Team 1. A colleague messaged him and told him it was inappropriate.

  • Another former colleague of Ms Malone overheard Insp Warhust calling one of the female Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) agents “a wee lassie”.

  • Sgt Coates and another colleague, Constable Zara Taylor, left the ARV division as they were “not confident that the sexist culture…was going to change and felt their sex was always going to be a barrier to promotion”.

And the only reason this egregious statement from an Inspector was not found to be direct discrimination was because it wasn’t actually implemented:

In the email he referred to “the obvious differences in physical capacity” and said it made “more sense from a search, balance of testosterone perspective”.

Wendy Chamberlain said that the toxic culture in the Police service had to be challenged:

When I was a serving member of the police, trust was the single most important part of the job. Trust with your colleagues, knowing that you would support each other, and trust with the public, knowing you would be working to keep them safe.

Sadly, the tragic murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer has shattered this vital trust with the public. What is worse, the initial reaction by the Metropolitan Police was not to look internally at how this had been allowed to occur – but instead to obfuscate and try to distance themselves from Couzens.

The vast majority of police officers are upstanding individuals, who put their lives on the line daily to help keep us safe. However, we must learn from this tragedy and challenge the toxic locker room attitudes that clearly continue to pervade the service.

In particular, the culture within firearms and specialist operations units needs to change. It’s appalling that just one-in-fifteen of current firearms officers are women and this speaks volumes about how unrepresentative different parts of the force can be. I We must end this murky culture which breeds both discontent and distrust.

We need more women in top-level and specialist positions, to challenge these attitudes so we can start to truly reform police forces across the country.

Without this change we will continue to fuel the cycle which sees less women apply to join the police service and hamper our efforts to create a truly representative police service.

The enquiry that Priti Patel announced yesterday into the failings around how on earth Sarah Everard’s murderer was allowed to be a Police Officer given the concerns around him is way too narrow. The culture and practices of Police forces across the country needs to be put under the microscope and sorted out.

The whole country needs to see a significant change of attitude and direction from the Police. How else can we have confidence that they will do their jobs fairly and properly?

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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