Argus title : Police must put a stop to sexism in the force
Barbara Lynford (38) a former firearms officer for Sussex Police has had her complaint of sexual discrimination upheld by a Brighton employment tribunal.
She was forced out of her job at Gatwick Airport by male colleagues whose treatment of her was sexist and demeaning. She stands to be awarded significant financial compensation.
Ms Lynford said that working conditions became impossible because her male colleagues made lewd comments about her body, littered the office with male magazines containing female nudity and treated her in a humiliating fashion. She has been off duty with work-related stress since August 2005.
Barbara Lynford joined Sussex Police in 1993 and worked for 9 years in Haywards Heath, Hove and Brighton. In August 2002, she transferred to the Gatwick firearms division where she was the only permanent female officer in a staff of 14 constables, three sergeants, and an inspector.
She said in evidence: “In all my life I have never been treated as badly as I have been at Gatwick. I survived backpacking around India at the age of 19 for a few months, where I was even kidnapped and held against my will for a few days in Bombay. Nothing, however, prepared me for the people at Gatwick.”
After the tribunal found in her favour Ms Lynford commented: “I hope now Sussex Police will learn from this case and take such complaints seriously in the future so that other female officers are not subjected to this kind of treatment. I have been fortunate that the Police Federation have supported me from the outset.”
Ray Coster, General Secretary of the Police Federation Constables Central Committee, said “It is very sad that Miss Lynford has had to tolerate such treatment from her colleagues within the workplace, and that the issues were not addressed by the force at an early stage.”
Mohini Bharania, Miss Lynford’s solicitor, said: “It is regrettable that this experienced officer has had to tolerate this sort of behaviour in the workplace from her male colleagues and supervisors.
“It has taken enormous courage and strength for my client to raise these issues with her supervisors let alone bring them to the employment tribunal.”
Ms Lynford’s experience was obviously appalling and it is to the credit of at least some of her male colleagues that they corroborated her account of events. However, the most worrying aspect of this case is not the suffering of an individual employee, but the light that it appears to shine on police practice and attitudes, not just at Gatwick Airport, but in Sussex Police as a whole.
In their ruling the tribunal panel stated it was “troubled” by her treatment and the lack of support shown her after she went on sick leave. It added that these issues would “benefit from further consideration” by the force. However, Sussex Police have given no indication that they will heed this advice.
There have been no expressions of regret or concern for Ms Lynford, nor any reassurance that wider issues raised during the hearing have been investigated and dealt with. Sussex Police’s somewhat peevish statement of response to the tribunal finding was: “It is very regrettable when such cases come before a tribunal. It should be noted that the majority of the claims in this case were not upheld by the tribunal and those that were will be subject of an appeal.” Given the seriousness of the allegations made in this case, this is very disappointing.
The tribunal heard serious allegations about police practice at Gatwick. These included statements by Miss Lynford and former officer PC Toby Gough that armed officers at Gatwick had routinely faked anti-terrorism patrol reports, took sick days when they were well and left guns unattended.
The tribunal heard that leaving weapons lying around was a “doughnut offence”, only punishable by having to buy cakes or doughnuts for the rest of the team.
Miss Lynford told the tribunal that officers in her team, all charged with a duty to protect the public, went to sleep in their police van while on duty at nights and, during patrols, used their radios to send messages to each other about female holidaymakers they found sexually attractive.
It was claimed that they used derogatory terms such as MILF and GILF, shorthand for Mother/Grandmother I’d Like to F***, to describe female visitors to the airport.
In evidence, one of Miss Lynford’s senior officers, Sergeant Alastair Cleland, corroborated this, saying he had heard an officer on duty using his radio to point out a “MILF” to a colleague. This officer was reprimanded for his actions, which Sgt Cleland described as “unacceptable”.
Sgt Cleland confirmed that officers referred to an area of the airport where air stewardesses were dropped off and picked up as the “snatch patch” – which was a reference to how many attractive women could be seen there. “Snatch” is, of course, a crude slang term for female genitalia.
Ms Lynford alleged that officers watched a late-night X-rated television channel in the police station’s gym and TV room, which showed people simulating sex. Former Gatwick PC Toby Gough corroborated this.
Magazines, such as FHM, Maxim and Nuts, showing topless women, were left scattered around the police station. Sgt Cleland said that on three occasions he had thrown away copies of magazines which he did not think were appropriate for the work environment.
In evidence, Toby Gough said that officers left guns unattended, faked patrol reports and slept while on duty. He alleged some officers spent more time in the canteen than on patrol. Asked why he did not report this at the time, he replied “I had a mortgage to pay”.
Sussex Police will not confirm whether an investigation has been or will be carried out into these additional allegations.
The situation is extraordinary. Gatwick Airport must be assumed to be a prime target for terrorist attack. Yet there are credible allegations that firearms officers charged with public protection have: left weapons unattended; falsified patrol records; slept on duty; failed to patrol where and when they should; and patrolled more than they needed to in areas frequented by young and attractive women. The implications are serious, but there is more.
Gatwick Airport is also known to be a key route for sex traffickers, in which traffickers are known to have blatantly auctioned women to pimps – in one notorious instance outside a Gatwick coffee shop. Unaccompanied female children arrive at the airport regularly and are received into the care of local authorities. It is known that in Sussex, over the past 20 years, dozens of them have disappeared from care, almost certainly into the hands of sex traffickers who have processed them through into European brothels.
It is vital that Gatwick’s police officers are alert to the possibilities of sexual exploitation. Yet it seems rampant sexism may render many of them incapable of understanding the issues or dealing sympathetically with victims.
In March 2007, a new police team led by the Metropolitan Police was set up to combat sex trafficking – a form of exploitation which Commander Sue Wilkinson of the Metropolitan Police described as ”modern day slavery”. For this initiative to succeed it needs effective support from committed, competent local police officers in UK airports. Yet, from the description of the attitudes and activities of the Gatwick firearms team it would seem they are far from equipped to deliver it.
There is no doubt that police attitudes affect the service received by female victims of crime. This week the government announced legal changes in the way in which rape cases are handled. Professor Liz Kelly, a national expert on violence against women and children, welcomed the legislation, but sounded a note of caution, saying that many cases founder because police officers fail to gather evidence as they should. Sometimes this is due to lack of resources, but often it is also due to police attitudes.
A Sussex Police spokesperson would make no comment when I asked what steps the Sussex Police have taken to counter institutional sexism within the force and protect women officers and members of the public from sexual harassment or sexist insult.
Instead I was directed to Sussex Police’s Diversity Strategy called “Protect and Respect”. It states: “We will actively build a culture in our force which is overtly hostile to those who discriminate on the grounds of race, religion, skin colour, sexual orientation, disability, gender, social class or any other inappropriate factor.”
Fine words, but they ring rather hollow in the context of events at Gatwick Airport.