There was a culture of sexism and an “absolute boys’ club” at an armed response unit attached to Police Scotland, a tribunal has heard.
Former firearms officer Rhona Malone brought a discrimination and victimisation claim against her employer – an armed response vehicles unit (ARV) in the east of Scotland.
Among her evidence to the tribunal, which was heard in September, was an email between her superior Inspector Keith Warhurst and Malone’s manager, claiming women should not be deployed together if there were sufficient male officers on duty.
It said: “For operational reasons I don’t want to see 2 x female officers deployed together when there are sufficient male staff on duty.
“This is based upon my experience in the firearms and routine policing environment, other than the obvious differences in physical capacity, it makes more sense from a search, balance of testosterone perspective.”
The court also heard further examples of sexist behaviour, including that Inspector Warhurst had described one of the female police investigators as “a wee lassie”, and that he had sent video clips of topless women to a WhatsApp group.
A number of officers had already left the ARV because they felt the sexist culture would prevent them from progressing in their career.
Another officer was told by the chief firearms instructor that women should not become armed fire officers because “they menstruated and that affected their temperament”.
Malone also told the tribunal that a member of the HR team in the force had mishandled her application for ill-health retirement because she was pursuing a formal grievance.
Alasdair Muir, a senior HR professional, had sent an internal email recommending her application “merited caution” because she had lodged a tribunal claim, and that the force was seeking its own psychiatric assessment on Malone despite having evidence from two medical experts that she was unable to return to duty.
Malone won her victimisation claim but the discrimination claim was dismissed.
In judgment, the tribunal found there was insufficient evidence that Malone received less favourable treatment because of her gender.
In her claim of victimisation, it found that her application for ill-health retirement had not been processed due to a “general feeling of unease” rather than considering the evidence placed before the HR team. For this reason, she succeeded.
The judgment also stated that Malone was an “entirely credible and reliable witness”, but that Inspector Warhurst’s evidence was “contradictory, confusing and ultimately incredible”.
Malone’s solicitor, Margaret Gibbon, said: “The employment tribunal’s findings lay bare the misogynistic attitudes and culture within armed policing and the hostile treatment police officers face when they try to call it out.
“Of equal concern is the employment tribunal’s findings that it did not consider credible much of the evidence it heard from Police Scotland’s witnesses, including testimony from high-ranking police officers and senior members of staff.
“The serious issues this judgement brings to light need to be urgently addressed by Police Scotland.”
Personnel Today has contacted Police Scotland for comment.