Hundreds of gagging orders used to silence victims of police misogyny

Some 243 gagging orders have been used by police to silence victims, including 133 at the Metropolitan Police

Amy-Clare Martin
Crime Correspondent
Tuesday 10 October 2023 18:56 BST
Angela Rayner says the next Labour government will make misogyny a hate crime

Police have used hundreds of gagging orders to silence victims of misogyny, amid concerns forces are trying to “sweep the issue under the carpet”.

New figures reveal forces in England and Wales have imposed 243 non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) or other types of gagging orders, to stop staff from talking about their treatment following employment tribunal claims, in the past five years.

The Metropolitan Police had issued more than half of those, with 133 imposed as of January this year.

The figures, obtained under Freedom of Information laws by the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW), which represents police staff, come as it called on police chiefs to stop using NDAs.

Only one police force, Durham Constabulary, responded to the FOI request to say they had ceased their use in relation to discrimination complaints.

In an address on rooting out misogyny, given to the PFEW annual conference on Tuesday, Sue Honeywill, its joint wellbeing and women’s group lead, said: “The question must be asked, why enforce the silence? Are chief constables trying to sweep cases under the carpet? Is the reputation of the force more important than justice for the victim?

“The only way we will regain the trust and confidence of the victims and the wider public is to face up to wrongdoing, deal with the perpetrators and implement changes where they are needed.

“We therefore publicly call on chief constables to cease the use of clauses in NDAs, COT3 [a settlement between employer and employee] and settlements that seek to silence the victim from being to speak about their experience if they choose to.

“Let’s not be afraid of the negative coverage this may entail. We need to focus and we need to learn. Only then will we be able to move forward.”

Her comments come after PFEW chair Steve Hartshorn wrote to police and crime commissioners last year, warning that the use of police NDAs was “on a par with how whistleblowers in the NHS were silenced”.

He wrote: “We believe that no police officer should ever be required to sign a confidentiality agreement in order to settle a claim.

“We believe that too often forces treat the cases our members bring as an unproven aberration rather than valuable learning, much less highlight the issues raised internally or inform other forces about the mistakes they have made so they can consider how they might respond.”

So far this year, the PFEW had already logged 68 employment civil matters, relating to sexual harassment, maternity, pregnancy and victimisation, Ms Honeywill told the conference.

Belinda Goodwin, PFEW parliamentary lead, part of a panel of experts, added: “It was almost like a lightbulb moment when we realised forces were utilising it [NDAs] and it was almost becoming the norm. We can only learn when we know what the issue and problems are.”

She said the tribunal process can be traumatic for victims who then may be told they cannot speak about their experience.

“By the end of it, if you are then told you cannot speak about your experience, it is quite humiliating and it’s wrong – unless the member wants it. We have got to be more victim focused around that,” she added.

ITV journalist Justina Simpson claimed her inbox was “full” of women who wanted to speak out about their experience of misogyny in the fire service but they too had been gagged.

“I’m currently speaking to six women, all of whom want to tell their stories but have been silenced by NDAs,” she told the panel. “One was paid £40,000 to keep her mouth shut [about] the fact that she was sexually assaulted by a senior, very high up, of the fire service.

“This is something I’m dealing with day to day and these women want to speak out. But unfortunately the experiences that I have with the fire service, they are only interested in protecting their reputation.”

She added: “It’s not the majority, but unfortunately this minority on both police and fire are absolutely tarnishing their reputations and I think it’s down to everyone to address and expose it.”

Kathryn Billing, chief fire officer at Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service, admitted that there was an acceptance that we have an “institutionally misogynistic sector”. However, she said that the fire service found NDAs “quite prohibitive in the context of learning”.

A National Fire Chiefs Council spokesperson said: “Misogyny and discrimination in any form is completely unacceptable and has no place in fire and rescue services. Where it is found to exist, it must be dealt with swiftly and strongly.

“Fire services should have independent, confidential reporting lines and transparent arrangements in place to investigate and deal with complaints when they are made. Aligning these arrangements to employment law and good practice and learning from them will support the further development of fire services as inclusive places to work.”

Chief Constable Craig Guildford, the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for misconduct, said: “We continue to work with the Police Federation on all issues related to vetting and misconduct, including through the recent Government review of the dismissals process.

“We look forward to discussing the detail behind these comments and working to address the concerns raised.”

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