Two senior female police officers have been awarded significant sums for sex discrimination, after a tribunal ruled they were treated unfairly when they were placed on restricted duties after giving evidence against a colleague in a separate tribunal.
Jane Higham – who has since been promoted to superintendent – and former detective inspector Laura Escott claimed a decision to place them on gross misconduct charges amounted to discrimination by Greater Manchester Police (GMP).
The two officers, who worked in GMP’s professional standards board (PSB), told a Manchester Employment tribunal they were disciplined for making allegations against a former inspector who was bringing a case for race discrimination.
In February 2015, both women were to be witnesses for GMP at an employment tribunal claim brought by inspector Scott Winters, who claimed GMP had racially discriminated against him because he reprimanded a white officer for calling one of his senior colleagues by his first name.
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Higham said the issues which led to her sex discrimination claim began when she disclosed to GMP’s counsel information about an allegation made against Winters in 1998, when he allegedly grabbed a female colleague and pinned her to the wall. This was used in cross-examination of Winters.
Escott denied making any protected disclosure at that time and said she was unaware of the information disclosed by Higham.
The claim brought by Winters was settled out of court.
Winters wrote to GMP on 18 June 2015 expressing concerns about both officers’ testimonies and a potential claim for defamation. He said the complaint that he had assaulted a female officer “was false, it never happened, was not reported and was not investigated”.
Following an independent investigation into the complaint and the PSB’s handling of its fact-finding investigation, both female officers were referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) on 24 October. They were told they were being investigated for gross misconduct in relation to the testimony.
But evidence submitted to the IPCC showed that complaints had been made against Winters in 1998, and the report showed the female officer involved had also made allegations of bullying against him which had been corroborated by “a number of police officers”.
During the investigation, Higham and Escott were placed on restricted duties and removed from the PSB on 15 June 2016, which the tribunal ruled was detrimental to both officers’ careers.
Escott emailed deputy chief constable Ian Pilling on 4 July, believing he would “take action to put things right”. She said she was being used as “collateral damage” and expressed the view that, as female officers, she and Higham were being treated as “expendable” by GMP.
Higham told the tribunal the investigation for gross misconduct was a “tremendous blow”, and she considered being placed on restricted duties extremely embarrassing. She added that the actions of senior officers had been “vindictive” and “highly damaging” to both her and Escott’s wellbeing.
Pilling said the reason for the restricted duties was because of a blanket policy which was invoked whenever an allegation was raised, but the tribunal found that the same disciplinary action had not been taken against four male comparators in similar circumstances.
The tribunal ruled in favour of both officers, concluding they had been treated less favourably than male officers in comparable circumstances and the evidence of a blanket policy as “the reason for restriction in this case was weak”.
The tribunal awarded Escott – who has since left GMP – £30,000 for injury to feelings and awarded £12,500 to Higham, who continues to work for GMP.