Police chief cleared of sexually assaulting staff says he was victim of lies and fantasy

Click to follow
The Independent Online

It was at the sprawling greenfield site of Mount Browne, the headquarters of the Surrey constabulary, that one of the country's most senior police officers was accused of carrying out a campaign of sexual harassment and molestation.

It was at the sprawling greenfield site of Mount Browne, the headquarters of the Surrey constabulary, that one of the country's most senior police officers was accused of carrying out a campaign of sexual harassment and molestation.

Seated in his office with the "engaged" sign switched on outside his door, Ian Beckett was alleged to have summoned his victims via the telephone. Another time a female member of staff was said to have to endure "inappropriate" comments on subjects such as the colour of her knickers.

Surrey Police's 54-year-old deputy chief constable was portrayed as a bully who used his position of authority and role as the man in charge of discipline, investigations and the supervision of complaints of harassment to intimidate staff.

But a jury yesterday rejected this image and cleared the decorated career detective of four charges of sexually assaulting two middle-aged women at the force headquarters just outside Guildford during December 1998. But despite the not guilty verdicts at Southwark Crown Court in central London the senior officer's career is still in the balance.

On Monday his employers, the Surrey Police Authority, will consider four complaints made by women civilian staff who have accused Mr Beckett of sexual harassment dating back to 1991 when he joined the force from the Metropolitan Police.

The fresh complaints emerged during a criminal inquiry into allegations that Mr Beckett indecently assaulted two members of staff.

In an extraordinary trial the second in command at the 1,600-strong Surrey force became the most senior police officer to go on trial for a criminal offence since the 1960s. He was accused of subjecting two of his civilian workers to "humiliating and degrading" ordeals.

In the most serious allegation one of the women claimed the officer had thrust his hand up her skirt into her underwear and fondled her despite her pleas for him to stop. She claimed afterwards he wished her "Happy Christmas" and smiled. At one stage the trial had to be adjourned for 10 minutes when the woman broke down in tears.

The married woman said that earlier he had asked her to wear "red knickers" and had locked her in his office and hugged her.

Mr Beckett was said to have made good use of a psychology degree, obtained at University College, London, in 1981, by earlier showing the frightened woman a newspaper article in which the Surrey chief constable, Ian Blair, was tipped as a favourite to become the new commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, which would leave Mr Beckett, as his deputy, to run the force.

The second woman claimed that the officer had put his hand up her skirt to touch the top of her thigh in an initial attack, before kissing her and fondling one of her breasts in a follow-up assault.

Later, she alleged he repeatedly asked her to let him make love to her in his office.

In response Mr Beckett - who has been suspended on full pay since January last year - denied all the charges and said it was a mystery to him why the two women would want to make the allegations.

The jury of two women and 10 men trying him took just over five-and-a-half hours to accept his assertions that he was the victim of "lies and fantasy". They chose to believe the senior officer's word against that of the two women, whose identities are protected by law.

As the not guilty verdicts were returned, Mr Beckett smiled. Gaynor, his wife of 33 years, who sat in court throughout the five-day trial, burst into tears and then hugged him for several minutes as their daughter, Hannah, congratulated her father.

Mr Beckett later appeared with his wife outside court as his solicitor, Peter Williams, read a statement on his behalf.

The statement said: "I and my family are relieved the right verdict was reached in a case which has caused us enormous trauma. I now ask that we might return to the privacy and dignity of my family life.

"And of course I'm looking forward to returning to Surrey Police as its committed deputy chief constable."

The case made legal history when, for the first time, a chief constable testified in a criminal trial against his deputy. Mr Blair, who was Mr Beckett's boss at the time of the alleged attacks, is now the Metropolitan Police's deputy commissioner.

Following the case Denis O'Connor, the new chief constable of Surrey Police, said: "This trial has been a painful but necessary process for all those involved which has regretfully caused so much distress to so many people.

"The outcome has not diminished our commitment to support staff where serious allegations of harassment have been made."

Mr Beckett joined the Metropolitan Police in 1965 and transferred to the Surrey Police in 1991 and was awarded the Queen's Police Medal two years ago.

The case comes as the Home Office is spending millions of pounds trying to encourage people, particularly women, to join the Police Service.