Police Scotland have paid nearly £1million in compensation to a former firearms officer who suffered ‘horrendous’ sexism at a boys’ club in the force’s elite Armed Response Unit .
The force’s chief constable, Iain Livingstone, also apologized to Rhona Malone, who quit the force’s firearms unit in Edinburgh where misogynistic abuse and bullying were rife.
Malone was awarded £948,000 in damages after winning an employment tribunal last year which found the Armed Response Unit was dominated by an ‘absolute boys’ club culture’ which was ‘awful’.
The court did not find that she was a victim of gender discrimination, but found that Malone had been victimized under the Equality Act 2010, after she complained about a written recommendation that two female firearms officers should not be deployed together if a male was available.
Inspector Keith Warhurst’s email said that apart from “obvious differences in physical ability, it makes more sense from a testosterone finding and balancing perspective.”
After a heated meeting in which Malone challenged Warhurst over her memo, where he denied being sexist, he threatened to suspend her from duty for not acting in a “calm/restrained manner and controlled”.
She filed a formal complaint against Warhurst alleging discrimination after a series of incidents, backed by often undisputed evidence from witnesses, including other female officers, of routinely sexist and abusive attitudes in the unit.
The court found that these complaints included Warhurst distributing images of topless women on an internal WhatsApp group; Warhurst talking about another male officer “fucking” a female colleague; Warhurst describing another’s pregnant wife as “a fat fucking bitch”; and a senior officer telling a female firearms officer to “fuck off” when she asked for a two-piece uniform instead of a jumpsuit because it made it easier to use the restroom.
The court also heard that another female officer, Sergeant Rachel Coates, was told by a senior instructor that women should not be firearms officers “because they menstruate and that would affect their temperament.”
Warhurst later apologized to Malone, but unbeknownst to them, a senior officer continued to pursue an internal grievance over Malone’s earlier complaint. The court found that the internal investigative reports were selective, inaccurate and incorrectly implied that the two officers were equally to blame.
Malone filed a grievance over the handling of his complaints, the actions of a senior officer investigating his complaints, and Warhurst’s continued role in requesting medical checks, and eventually asked to leave the force for reasons of ill health. .
After winning her case in court, Malone told the BBC that Police Scotland initially asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in return for an out-of-court settlement, which she refused designate. Malone also accused the Scottish Police Federation and its lawyers of trying to force her to accept the NDA, and then refusing to fund his lawsuit when she refused to accept it. The federation’s lawyer said she was “deliberately choosing to be stubborn”.
Margaret Gribbon, Malone’s solicitor, said: ‘My client lost a promising police career and the court heard testimony from other female armed officers who had been trained at considerable public expense but were driven out of the gun division because of the rampant culture of sexism”.
In a statement released on Friday, the force apologized for “its poor response when a dedicated and promising officer raised legitimate concerns. The Chief Constable also underlined his personal commitment to leading change in policing in Scotland which promotes equality and inclusion to improve the experiences of all women, including our own officers and staff. .