After Halford: where next?

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POLICE forces will have to review their selection procedures because of the 'tremendous impact' of the Alison Halford case, according to the country's highest- ranking woman police officer.

Sally Hubbard, Assistant Inspector of Constabulary, said: 'It has made police forces around the country realise that their policies and procedures are perhaps not as equitable as they thought. I believe that the results will be beneficial.'

Miss Hubbard, 51, a Metropolitan Police commander, was seconded to the inspectorate earlier this year. Her salary and length of service, both overall and as a commander, make her marginally the most senior woman in the country.

Unlike Miss Halford, who last week called off her lengthy sex discrimination action in return for a pounds 142,000 settlement and early retirement on pounds 35,000 a year, she said she had encountered no real barriers during her 27-year career in the Met, although she acknowledges difficulties in getting herself accepted by some senior officers. When she joined the force, female officers still dealt mainly with domestic matters.

It was on being appointed duty sergeant at West End Central station in London in 1971, in charge of 40 male officers, that Miss Hubbard, a forceful woman with a strong personality, encountered what she calls her first 'hiccup'.

'I was not seen as having had the right experience for senior rank, so I went through a period where I had to gain my spurs and was under constant pressure to prove myself,' she said.

Miss Hubbard, whose responsibilities at the inspectorate include equal opportunities, clearly shares the embarrassment of many within the police service at the lurid tales of heavy drinking and macho behaviour within the Merseyside force that emerged from the Halford proceedings.

'It saddened me, but I think that it has to be remembered that the police pick up the worst pieces in society and that does put stress on individuals,' she said.

The 'canteen culture' depicted in Merseyside is one which is familiar to Miss Hubbard. 'Of course you hear offensive remarks and witness sexist behaviour,' she said. 'I think the culture is diminishing, with a new generation of people coming in. But it can't be swept away overnight.'

It is an irony of the Halford affair that by taking retirement, she creates a vacancy which allows one of the police service's 12 women chief superintendents to join the four already at chief officer level. One of the most eligible is Chief Superintendent Pauline Clare, who happens to be in Merseyside's police.

Chief Superintendent Clare, 45, who has a psychology degree, is head of policing for the Sefton area of Merseyside and this weekend has completed her six months senior command course at the Police Staff College, Bramshill. The course is a mark of approval that the person is suitable for the highest echelons of the service and she is well placed to apply for the vacancy in the force where she has spent most of her career.

Chief Superintendent Pat Barnett, head of Walsall Division of the West Midlands Police, is another highly rated women officer approaching chief officer rank. She has already applied for at least one senior post but was turned down because her experience was not in the right area. A couple of years or so behind are several able superintendents, including a detective superintendent in London. Unlike Alison Halford they may well follow the examples of other women who have made it into the chief officer ranks by joining a force led by a sympathetic chief constable. Miss Hubbard, as an Assistant Inspector of Constabulary and Susan Davies, the Assistant Commandant of Bramshill (both Assistant Chief Constables equivalents) were appointed with the endorsement of Sir John Woodcock, the Chief Inspector of Constabulary and an ardent reformist.

Similarly, Erica Norton, 45, an Assistant Chief Constable in Leicestershire since last June, is a former staff officer to Sir John; her chief constable now is Michael Hirst, another advocate of police reform. Miss Norton worked her way up through the ranks and her progress has been rapid since she took a Bramshill scholarship, obtaining a degree in politics at Warwick University, in the early 1980s.

The last of the four represents the best hope for a woman chief constable. Liz Neville, an Oxford philosophy and psychology graduate, is an Assistant Chief Constable in Sussex under Sir Roger Birch, who first noticed her potential when he was head of High Command Selection for the Service and she was a Chief Inspector in London. Miss Neville subsequently prospered at Thames Valley police when it was led by Colin Smith, who has also furthered the careers of several other women now on the verge of senior officer status.

All four women recognise that discrimination in the service exists; each, for their own reasons, say they have not been affected. 'There were . . . comments like 'if you were my daughter you would still be at home.' It did not, and does not, make any difference to me, you just ignore it,' said Miss Neville, in an interview with the Independent in 1988.

There is little doubt the job has caused private tensions. Mrs Davies has been reluctant to apply for posts outside the Dorset area because her husband cannot move jobs; Miss Neville, who has two children, is recently divorced, her former husband an equally high-flying detective in her old force.

The problem now ahead of all four is whether they can break through the promotional 'glass ceiling' that stands between them and the deputy chief constable role that eluded Miss Halford. At 39, Miss Neville may be young and strong enough finally to crack it.

(Photograph omitted)