Anger as judge 'ticks off' PC for assaults

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A judge was widely condemned as biased and out of touch yesterday after he halted the case against a policeman accused of indecently assaulting colleagues.

Judge Alistair McCallum said "no serious purpose is being served by airing what goes on in busy police stations" after hearing allegations that Constable Robert Bridle, of the West Yorkshire force, grabbed the breasts of two female colleagues. Bradford Crown Court was told that on another occasion PC Bridle sat astride one of the women and tried to pull her towards him as if for a kiss.

But directing not guilty verdicts on four charges of indecent assault, the judge said he was concerned the case was "more likely to do harm to the police force than any good".

He said the appropriate way of dealing with an officer was for a superior officer "to give him a sound ticking off and make sure he doesn't behave in a way which most people find unacceptable". The judge added: "It does seem to me there's been one standard for a police officer and one standard for a civilian."

After the trial, Lynne Tolan, the detective chief inspector who investigated the case, accused the judge of "taking the system of justice back 40 years" and said his comments were "biased, crass, prejudicial, outdated and completely out of order".

She said: "To suggest that a telling off was more appropriate when you are dealing with an experienced, mature police officer who is alleged to have indecently assaulted a colleague, is tantamount to an invitation to all other male officers to touch up their female colleagues."

Norman Bettison, the assistant chief constable of West Yorkshire, said disciplinary action against PC Bridle, 41, who has been suspended for two years, would be "robustly pursued". He went on: "The force stands by its decision to bring the case to court and hopes this sends a clear signal that any form of physical abuse or harassment is totally unacceptable." PC Bridle had denied all charges.

The case was the second time in two months that sexual harassment allegations have been made against West Yorkshire police officers. In May, PC Karen Wade lost a claim of sex discrimination against the force and three officers. She is expected to appeal. Her industrial tribunal in Leeds heard there was a "culture of sexual harassment" in the force.

Yesterday, Mr Justice McCallum said evidence showed "a fair degree of horseplay took place during the canteen breaks between officers of both sexes".

The jury was told by one of the policewomen that a male officer had made a joke in the Halifax station canteen in September 1994 about the size of her breasts. She described how PC Bridle had asked to see them and, despite her efforts to protect herself with her arms across her front, he put his hands up underneath hers and held her breasts.

She said bawdy banter was normal at the station and she was not particularly upset by it - "but I felt that Bob Bridle's actions went a step further".

Julie Bindel, of the pressure group Justice for Women, said the judge should resign. "The trivialising of sexual assaults on women gives men a clear message - that they can do this and get away with it."

But Jean Smith, of Rights of Women, a legal policy unit, said if a judge resigned every time such a comment was made there would be none left. "What judges really need is training to recognise and understand the sort of issues involved in a case like this. And we do need to have more women judges."