Halford calls an end to her two-year battle: A high-profile discrimination case has reached an inconclusive finish. Equal rights groups believe it is a setback, but only in the short term

ALISON HALFORD, once Britain's most senior policewoman, decided yesterday - after a two- year battle - to abandon her effort to prove at an industrial tribunal that she was denied promotion because of sexual discrimination.

Miss Halford, who is to take early retirement on health grounds from her post as an assistant chief constable with Merseyside Police, formally withdrew her claims of sexual discrimination, bringing an end to the controversial tribunal after 44 days.

However, she was yesterday awarded, in her absence, an ex gratia payment of pounds 10,000. The payment, equivalent to a quarter of the maximum amount possible had Miss Halford, 52, won her case, almost caused a further adjournment of the tribunal in Manchester as lawyers debated in private who should make the money available.

She also gained an agreed payment of pounds 5,000 to cover expenses during the hearing. It is understood that the sums will be paid directly by the Home Office to ensure no further public allegations are made by any parties in the long and embarrassing case.

Miss Halford, who stayed away from the final day's hearing, said through a statement read by Verena Jones, a solicitor with the Equal Opportunities Commission - which backed Miss Halford's case - that an annual scholarship would be set up to help women win equal treatment in the police service.

Miss Halford, who has been suspended, will leave the Merseyside force on 31 August. She has agreed to the early retirement terms sanctioned by Merseyside Police Authority on Tuesday, which include a lump sum pension payment of pounds 142,600 and an annual pension of more than pounds 35,000.

James Sharples, Chief Constable of Merseyside, who would have been the next witness at the tribunal, spoke publicly for the first time yesterday about the case.

He said it had been a matter of 'great regret' to him that for at least the past two years Miss Halford had chosen to 'channel her energies and abilities' into her complaint of sex discrimination, which she had 'prosecuted through a series of increasingly bizarre and unfounded allegations', which he had always denied. He added: 'It is a thousand pities that they were ever made, let alone persisted in, and having attempted to substantiate them by her evidence, I think it speaks for itself that she has chosen to withdraw them. It would be idle to pretend that I have not found some of the things said . . . wounding and hurtful, and I can only think that they have been a product of the stress which Miss Halford has inflicted upon herself by the course she has chosen to pursue.' He said the 'notion' that Miss Halford or the Equal Opportunities Commission had won was 'farcical'.

But in her statement Miss Halford said: 'Today has witnessed the end of my long and bitterly fought fight for justice and fair treatment. I regard the settlement as a significant victory for myself and the EOC, my legal advisers and all the many members of the public who have supported me . . .'

Some might say, Miss Halford said, that she should have pressed on because questions remained unaswered. But when she started the case she knew there would be 'no winners or losers'. For her part, the most important element of the settlement had been the willingness of the Home Office to work with the EOC in improving police selection procedures.

She ended by saying it was 'right and proper' that the 'highly questionable' disciplinary action against her had been withdrawn by Merseyside Police Authority. 'I have always maintained my innocence. I need only remind those who are not my friends that the proceedings have been ruled by a High Court judge as having a smell of unfairness about them.'

Valerie Amos, chief executive of the EOC, who was at the final day's hearing, said that the case had been a 'landmark' which had taken women in Britain one step further towards 'shattering the glass ceiling' that prevented them from being selected for the top jobs in their chosen careers.

But the bitterness that has been a hallmark of the case emerged again when Sir Philip Myers, Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary in the North-west and one of the four respondents in the sex discrimination hearing, said: 'It was a personal disappointment to me when I was driven to the conclusion that she was unfit for promotion to deputy chief constable, but it was my plain duty to report that view and I did so.'

Leading article, page 24

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