Kent Police have been ordered to pay aggravated damages after a tribunal found senior officers had subjected a British Asian constable to racial discrimination and police witnesses had “suffered a collective memory loss” while giving evidence about a key aspect of the case.
Angus Bowler, 53, a “long-serving, loyal and successful officer, was worn down by the conduct of his senior officers,” the employment tribunal ruled.
Because of the discrimination and victimisation, the father of three went from having hardly any sickness absences in 25 years to needing time off for stress, suffering dizzy spells and chest pains, and feeling sick on the way to work.
Yet the panel ruled that after an earlier judgement produced findings of racial discrimination and victimisation, “there was a complete lack of action” from Kent Police. Mr Bowler, the tribunal found, was “fobbed off” by the force’s professional standards department when requesting an investigation into the findings.
The tribunal also said that an apparent letter of apology sent by Chief Constable Alan Pughsley five days before the tribunal’s compensation hearing was “half-hearted and late” and “smacked of an attempt to avoid aggravated damages.” The tribunal included the letter as one of the reasons for awarding £5,165 in aggravated damages.
In a judgement entered on 5 August, the tribunal also ordered Kent Police to pay Mr Bowler’s £1,450 tribunal fees, plus £20,822 in compensation.
Mr Bowler claimed race discrimination after failing to get promotion to sergeant in March 2014 while working for Kent’s special branch frontier operation near the French entrance to the Channel Tunnel.
The initial employment tribunal ruling, made in April this year after a hearing in Ashford, Kent, cleared Detective Inspector Nicholas Staddon of racially discriminating against Mr Bowler, partly because the evidence indicated that he had also been “rude and abrupt” to a white officer.
The tribunal found, however, that once Mr Bowler lodged a grievance complaint over his lack of promotion, he was subjected to both victimisation and racial discrimination.
The tribunal heard that Detective Chief Inspector Andy Somerville had found race relations legislation “convoluted”, so his investigation of the grievance consisted of him quoting the Oxford dictionary definition of racism to Mr Staddon, who assured him he wasn’t racist.
Ruling that such “sheer incompetence” amounted to racial discrimination, the tribunal panel said: “The lackadaisical approach by Mr Somerville indicated he held a stereotypical view that the claimant [Mr Bowler] was being oversensitive about being treated badly because of his race.”
When Mr Bowler appealed, the tribunal added, Superintendent Martin Very “brushed aside” his arguments and “rubber stamped” the earlier report, failing to take the complaint seriously because he viewed the British Asian constable “stereotypically, as oversensitive.”
The tribunal ruled that Mr Very had been “disingenuous” in claiming in evidence to the hearing that Mr Bowler’s representative Wendell Henry, of the National Black Police Association, had told him there was “no racial element” to the grievance.
“It was so unlikely that he would have told Mr Very that the grievance was not about race as to be incredible,” the tribunal observed in its judgement.
A Kent Police spokesman said: “Whilst Kent Police accepts that there are points within the grievance and appeals procedures that could be improved, it does not accept that the officer was treated differently due to his race, and Kent Police has been granted an appeal against the tribunal’s decision.
“Having submitted the appeal, Kent Police requested that the remedies hearing be adjourned pending the conclusion of the appeals process. However, this was rejected.
“The Chief Constable did send a letter to Mr Bowler apologising for the way in which the matters were dealt with. There was concern that Mr Bowler might be staying at two different addresses therefore to ensure prompt receipt the letter was sent via his solicitor. Kent Police now awaits the result of the appeal. Recommendations submitted by Mr Bowler for improvement to procedures will be considered by the force.”
(Excerpt from ‘The Independent’ Website)