Inquiry into cash paid in police sex case

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Allegations of sexual harassment within North Yorkshire police force - resulting in a pounds 130,000 compensation payout to a "traumatised" police woman - are to be scrutinised by two separate inquiries.

The county's police authority announced yesterday that it was calling in Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary, David O'Dowd, and its own auditors to examine the way the affair was handled.

But following a five-hour meeting between the North Yorkshire police authority and its Chief Constable, David Burke, both insisted they were satisfied with their own roles. Mr Burke said his hands were clean and the authority said it had acted honourably, although it expressed reservations about police investigating themselves.

The force has been accused of paying off Libby Ashurst, 27, a former officer with the CID at Harrogate, and a colleague, Amanda Rose, who is understood to have received about pounds 10,000, to suppress embarrassing details of the harassment to which they were subjected.

It is understood that a two-year inquiry uncovered incidents of bullying, initiation ceremonies and a raft of allegations of sexual harassment. In one incident, the women were allegedly asked by a senior officer to wear more provocative clothing, like stockings and suspenders, and in another, a detective sergeant was accused of stripping and attaching a lost property label to his penis.

Several officers have been disciplined or fined or both, but no one has been dismissed.

After yesterday's hearing, Mr Burke told a news conference that he was confident the affair had been handled correctly. "Over the years many allegations have been made about me," he said. "None of them of a disciplinary nature have ever proved to be successful and that's what I would hope in this case.

"I certainly believe my hands are clean. I have tried to deal with this matter throughout as impeccably as I could."

Angela Harris, the police authority chairwoman, said she considered Ms Ashurst's settlement - understood to include an pounds 18,000 pension - fair. "Miss Ashurst has lost not only her livelihood - she had a bright career ahead of her - she has lost her health and her self-confidence, and from what I read she has completely broken down.

"There is no limit on the settlements for sexual harassment at industrial tribunals, and we also have to consider the cost to North Yorkshire Police and the authority if we had gone on further, which could have been very great."

She said that the authority's auditors, Price Waterhouse, would conduct an inquiry to supplement Mr O'Dowd's, and added that she planned to complain to Michael Howard, the Home Secretary, over the "inadequacy, inflexibility and inappropriateness" of regulations governing police complaints and discipline and expressing concern about the police investigating themselves.

After the award was made, Ms Ashurst's father, Terry, the principal of Doncaster College of Further Education, had said: "I do not believe the Chief Constable's statement that none of the hierarchy was involved.

"I believe the culture is pervasive of sexual harassment and bullying and I cannot accept that senior officers are so lacking in knowledge of what is going on at the various levels within the force."