Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Police officer Carol Howard vs the London Metropolitan Police: ‘I was absolutely humiliated’ // Trust in our police service is a problem after the recent stream of scandals

As one of the force’s only female firearms officers, Carol Howard was subjected to a ‘vindictive and spiteful’ campaign of discrimination and smears, an employment tribunal ruled. She explains how her boss ‘tried to break me’

Carol Howard wanted to be a police officer from the age of seven. “My mum watched every single police drama: Cagney and Lacey, CHiPs, stuff like that,” she says. “I used to sit there and think: ‘God, I really want to do that.’”
Growing up in Peckham in the 80s and 90s, she was acutely aware of the black community’s distrust of the police – she remembers her uncles complaining about getting stopped and searched – but at the age of 14 she arranged to do work experience at her local police station and found herself hooked. At 18, she became pregnant but remained determined to fulfil her dream and joined the Met as a station receptionist at 21, training as an officer three years later.
She ought, you might think, to have been the perfect advertisement for the diversity and inclusivity of the force. Yet last week an employment tribunal found that not only had PC Howard been discriminated againstbecause she was a black woman, she was then victimised for complaining about that discrimination. The Met was then caught trying to smear her in a bid to deflect attention from its failings in the case, after allegations that Howard, 35, had been arrested for assault and possessing child pornography surfaced in the press.
The tribunal ordered the force to pay her damages of £37,000 and gave the Met an almighty dressing down. The assault claim, involving her estranged husband, was later dropped, and the “child porn” was of a photo she had shared with him of their sleeping six-year-old daughter. The smear campaign, concluded the tribunal, was part of a pattern of behaviour that was “insulting, malicious and oppressive”. The actions of acting Insp Dave Kelly, who singled Howard out for a year-long campaign of discrimination, were deemed “vindictive and spiteful”, and the force’s failure to apologise was considered to have added insult to injury. That the Met removed evidence of racial and sexual discrimination from documents later submitted to the panel hearing PC Howard’s case was “appalling and wholly unacceptable”. The tribunal even took a swipe at Met commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, who considered Howard’s ordeal an isolated incident, accusing him of attempting to “brush it off as insignificant”.
The judgment represents a pretty sweeping success, but at home in the flat she shares with her 16- and seven-year-old daughters in Coulsdon, Surrey, Howard – though clearly relieved – is a long way from jubilant. “I feel like I haven’t won,” she says. “I got messages saying ‘Congratulations’ and I just think: ‘Are you for real?’ This is nothing to celebrate. I didn’t want to bring an employment tribunal against the Metropolitan Police. I didn’t want to have my business disseminated in the public arena, I didn’t want to be labelled as a child predator and a criminal. I feel like I’ve been forced to do this because they refused to deal with it internally.”
The tribunal found that within a few weeks of becoming her line manager, Kelly formed the view that Howard was dishonest and not up to the job of a diplomatic protection group officer and embarked on a course of action designed to “undermine, discredit and belittle” her. Kelly unnecessarily booked Howard in for extra training, he ordered officers to investigate if she was absent through illness – sending a marked police car to her home in one instance – and blocked her application to join the Met’s elite armed response unit, CO19. In isolation, many of the incidents might have been bearable; cumulatively, they turned Howard’s working life into a nightmare, humiliating her in front of her colleagues, frequently reducing her to tears and gnawing at her confidence.
At the tribunal, Howard said she thought Kelly’s behaviour was fuelled partly by an attraction to her that she didn’t reciprocate. “I didn’t fit the normal stereotypical look of a firearms officer,” she says. “I think he was very curious and very intrigued by that at the beginning.” On one occasion he ordered officers to ask Howard if she was sleeping with another PC in the unit – shocked, they refused.
Soon after, Howard submitted a complaint about Kelly’s behaviour, and was advised not to discuss it with him. The next day, he launched an extraordinary verbal assault. “He was jabbing his hands in the direction of my face, shouting, ‘Who’s telling you not to speak to your chain of command?’” Howard says. “He was so loud and so aggressive, and I felt so intimidated by his stance, by his demeanour, the way he was shouting, and the fact he still had his Glock [pistol] on him.” She points out that the incident “was being overlooked by two sergeants and you could see that they felt uncomfortable. They knew [it] was inappropriate, yet neither of them intervened.”
“I know that throughout my PC career, the way I present myself has always been a factor,” she says. “I think I found it hard to be taken seriously because of how I looked. But there was no lowering of standards. I worked my butt off to get where I was, the same as everyone else, and I got where I got on my own merits.”
In reports from the tribunal, Howard was repeatedly referred to as the “glamorous firearms officer”. In the Daily Mail, Jan Moir sniped that she seemed to be a “highly groomed fusion of Pussycat Doll and Angelina Jolie”. It was a damning echo of the sexism her case set out to fight.
“I want to be taken seriously,” Howard says. “I worked hard to get where I am. The focus of attention shouldn’t be on what I’m wearing, or how I do my hair, or how I look, it should be on the fact that what this organisation has done is unacceptable. It’s got completely nothing to do with my job and the fact I have dedicated 13 years of my life to safeguarding the streets.” Police forces, she points out, are supposed to reflect the diverse communities they serve.
Earlier this year, pictures of Howard that she says had been on her private Facebook page, where she was wearing a bikini, were published in the press without her permission. They were later removed, but the damage was done. “I was absolutely humiliated because I never gave consent for the pictures to be used and colleagues seem to think I did,” she says.
Howard was the only woman in a team of 70 officers at the time, and one of only 12 in the 700-strong DPG unit. Just two of those were black. In the absence of any credible explanation for Kelly’s behaviour, the tribunal judged it to be a clear case of racial and sexual discrimination... read more: