Sex-claims report lambasts police force

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The Independent Online
A POLICE FORCE whose chief constable was forced to resign following his handling of a sexual harassment case was severely criticised yesterday by government inspectors for its treatment of women officers.

In 1996 North Yorkshire police paid out more than pounds 100,000 to a female former detective, and pounds 10,000 to a second woman officer. But a report yesterday said there was "little evidence of commitment" by the force to improve equal opportunities and also revealed that there were no women officers above the rank of inspector.

In one of the most damning reports in recent times by the Inspectorate of Constabulary, it said there was a "pressing need for urgent interim action" and an overhaul of the force's command structure.

The Chief Constable of the force, David Burke, resigned in January after disciplinary proceedings were brought against him - and then dropped - by the police authority.

The disciplinary case came after claims of sexual harassment were made by women officers at Harrogate police station. Former Constable Libby Ashurst alleged bizarre initiation rites at the station, involving officers being forced into dog kennels and male constables made to wear bulldog clips on their nipples.

Claiming sexual harassment by male colleagues, she accepted an undisclosed sum in an out-of-court settlement from the force in 1996 in return for dropping her claim. Some reports put the sum she received as high as pounds 600,000, although the figure is thought to be about pounds 150,000.

Another female officer based at Harrogate received an estimated pounds 10,000.

In the report, which followed an inspection of the force shortly after Mr Burke resigned, it called for a "root-and-branch" review of the force's structure, to bring about "meaningful change to its organisational culture".

It added: "Nowhere is this more required than in the area of equal opportunities, yet Her Majesty's Inspector was disappointed to find little evidence of commitment, let alone investment.

"Force personnel have little or no confidence in established processes such as training and the grievance procedure."

There has been a "significant" rise in the number of official complaints - 14 in the past nine months of last year - half of which involved "inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour", said the inspectors.

While about 13 per cent of the force's officers were women, the vast majority of these were of lower rank.

The absence of female officers above the rank of inspector was compared to a national average of about 4 per cent. The inspectors found that there were very few women detectives or traffic officers in the 1,400-strong force.

The inspectors also revealed that the part-time post of Equal Opportunities (EO) officer had been abolished and that EO training was suspended. A special board established to monitor equal opportunities within the force had not met for eight months.

In response to the report, David Kenworthy, the new Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, promised to deliver a "more dynamic, open and accountable style of management to build on the already impressive performance of the force". Mr Kenworthy added: "There are a lot of things that aren't being done properly - the grievance procedure is not being done properly, people don't trust it.".

Mr Kenworthy, who came to the force from Avon and Somerset police four months ago, said he was carrying out a review of management structure and would be hiring an equal opportunities officer.