A police inspector made inappropriate comments about a colleague’s breasts before touching another co-worker's leg without consent while at a leaving party, an investigation has revealed.
Inspector Simon Gee of Cumbria Police has been dismissed after a disciplinary panel heard that he made suggestive comments to several female colleagues that had the potential to “seriously harm [the constabulary’s] efforts to become a truly inclusive and diverse employer”.
The panel heard that off-duty officers including Gee had gathered at a pub in Lancaster one afternoon in September 2021. The occasion was a leaving do for an officer who was transferring to another police force.
The investigation heard that one of the females in attendance, identified only as PC A, was wearing a low-cut top which showed off her cleavage, which Gee commented on.
She could not recall the exact wording of Gee’s comments, but another officer at the party claimed to hear him say words to the effect of “I see you’ve come with the boys out”, while another claimed to have heard “Nice to see you’ve got them out”.
When providing her witness statement, PC A emphasised she was not offended by the remark and was actually flattered by his comments.
Another officer, PC B, was approached by Gee while she was sitting on a push bike outside the pub. He whispered in her ear: “Should I sniff the seat whilst you are sat on it, or should I wait until you are off it?”.
Her immediate reaction was to call Gee a “creep”, the report found.
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Gee admitted making the remarks but did not accept they were serious enough to warrant a disciplinary investigation.
A further allegation was that Gee placed a hand on another colleague, PC C’s bare leg without consent, an action not deemed sexually motivated but inappropriate, nonetheless.
The female officers were not identified as “victims” in the report because of their reluctance to be identified as such, though they did admit that Gee’s behaviour was sexist and unacceptable.
Sacking the only option that wouldn't undermine public's trust, panel ruled
The panel found that although there was no “actual harm” caused by Inspector Gee, there was “genuine potential for some degree of emotional harm to any woman subjected to the sort of behaviour Inspector Gee directed towards PCs A, B and C.”
The Panel also found that Gee’s behaviour had the potential to “seriously harm the Police Service’s and Cumbria Constabulary’s efforts to become a truly inclusive and diverse employer of choice, which strives to recruit and retain female officers or staff.”
It was said that the only mitigating factor in the case was that Gee’s conduct was limited to a relatively short period of time, rather than being symptomatic of more deep-rooted misbehaviour. But the probe also rejected the idea that Gee had shown any genuine remorse for his actions, stating: “Although conceding he was sorry for his behaviour, Inspector Gee continued to make excuses for it throughout his evidence, hiding behind the reluctance of the three female officers to make complaints,” the report said.
The panel ruled: “Inspector Gee’s behaviour is a throwback to a sexist or misogynistic past which the Police Service and the public condemn and will not tolerate. Inspector Gee’s behaviour may give the wrong impression that such behaviour is still common within the police and thereby harm its recruiting effort.
“The Panel also found there was and is a genuine risk of reputational harm to the force and to the Police Service caused by an officer, particular one of Inspector Gee’s rank, behaving in the way he did”.
The panel found that although Gee was a man of previous good character, with an “excellent record as a police officer... alcohol deprived him of his inhibition and revealed a quite disturbing attitude towards women which is inconsistent with a leader in the Police Service or a constable.”
The report concluded: “In this case, anything less than dismissal would seriously undermine public trust and confidence in the police, would cause additional serious harm to the reputation of the police and would not act as a deterrent to others inclined towards similar behaviour.”
Sexism & misogyny at work
Hannah Copeland, HR Business Partner at employment law and HR support firm WorkNest, previously told HR Grapevine that complaints of sexism should always be dealt with head on.
“It might feel an uncomfortable topic to have to deal with in the workplace but sexism cannot always be easily identified and can manifest in underhand and manipulative ways,” Copeland explained.
“If an explicit complaint is received or someone is called out then, it must be dealt with quickly and in line with the correct company procedures. First step is for the employee who is offended to call out the behaviour and let the person involved have an opportunity to understand what they did or said and rectify. Not all individuals will realise that their behaviour is offensive so they should have the opportunity to be told and to change.
“If the allegation is more serious or the offended party has been unable to resolve directly then call in an independent investigator (whether that be from an external professional consultancy) or from internal resource. If you have a bullying and harassment procedure then use that to guide your investigation. If you do not, then consider putting one in place or go back to the guidance outlined in your Grievance Policy.
"Depending on the severity of the complaint, you may need to consider suspending the employee concerned with the alleged behaviour or think about whether there are others ways of preventing further unwanted behaviour, pending investigation. Always consult an HR expert.”
Start with education
Copeland added that challenging sexism in the workplace starts with educating employees, managers and directors about the ways in which they can become aware of their behaviour and how their unconscious bias impacts what they think and do in life, and at work, and in turn how that can be perceived by others.
She said: “Start by defining what sexism actually means in your company – is it a backhanded comment? Is it a silly joke? Is it watching porn at work? Then look at how you can go about developing an open culture of dignity and respect – perhaps you need to rethink your recruitment strategy so that you start to recruit with desired behaviours in mind? perhaps you need to develop your senior managers so they can better role model desired behaviours?
“Critically, understanding what those dignity and respect means and living these values at work will actively encourage an environment where sexism won’t be tolerated.”