Police rank and file say Met is sexist

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The head of the Metropolitan Police was yesterday accused by his rank and file of ignoring widespread sex discrimination and harassment of the force's 6,000 women.

Mike Bennett, chairman of the capital's police federation, made the attack at the organisation's annual conference. His remarks are a major embarrassment to Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner, who has been keen to recruit more women to the ranks.

Mr Bennett's comments come as growing numbers of women officers are resorting to industrial tribunals as they feel their complaints are neither being taken seriously or dealt with effectively. Cases outstanding range from allegations of serious sexual assault by colleagues to a refusal to accept a WPC's transfer because she was a mother.

He called on Sir Paul to set up of a special unit to advise and deal with the problem - "along the lines of an in-house victim support system".

Yesterday, the federation said that there were 55 cases pending before tribunals and that Scotland Yard had settled many more claims. According to the federation, one woman who alleges she was sexually attacked by a male colleague was told by investigating officers: "Police do not do that." She was accused of lying, of being frustrated and asked if she was a lesbian. Her family were also apparently asked if she was gay and her doctor was asked if she had psychological problems. The investigation was not carried out by officers trained in sexual investigation techniques.

In another case, an officer returning to work after having a child had her agreed and regular shift pattern changed four times in quick succession - making child care arrangement increasingly difficult. When she protested, she was asked to make up mind: "Do you want to be a police officer or a mother?"

A third woman claims she was the repeated target of harassment and intimidation by her inspector, which made her ill. The force has refused to move him while the case is being investigated but, in the meantime, has given her a letter promising to keep him at a distance.

One women officer said: "Every station has its own canteen culture. The point is that at some stations such behaviour is not tolerated and stamped on immediately. Unfortunately, that is the exception rather than the rule."

Scotland Yard could not provide any figures. Last night, Sir Paul told the federation meeting that any form of discrimination or harassment was unacceptable.

Earlier, Mr Bennett said: "Commissioner, you cannot ignore any longer what is happening. You really must put out a stronger message to management and the force that discrimination and harassment will not be tolerated. You must be seen to be doing something about it."

He said he had spoken to many women who had been on the receiving end of comments questioning their ability to work and be mothers, and he questioned why women in the force were still having to deal with harassment. "I regret having to include this in the speech, but I believe it is both necessary and unavoidable if we are to retain the confidence of all those we represent," he added.

Sir Paul challenged what he called "a number of assumptions" by Mr Bennett while agreeing that more could be done about women's rights and equal opportunities. He added he was "disappointed" his offer of a full time (women's) representative had been rejected by the Police Federation and he was at a loss to understand why.