Police Scotland pays out nearly £1m to ex-officer over sexism case

Police Scotland has paid out nearly £1m in compensation to a former firearms officer victimised by “horrific” boys’ club sexism in the force’s elite armed response unit.

The force’s chief constable, Iain Livingstone, has also apologised to Rhona Malone, who quit the force’s firearms unit in Edinburgh where misogynistic abuse and bullying were rife.

Malone has been awarded £948,000 in damages and costs after she won an employment tribunal last year which found the armed response unit was dominated by an “absolute boys club culture” that was “horrific”.

The tribunal did not find she was the victim of sex discrimination but did find Malone had been victimised under the Equalities Act 2010, after she complained about a written recommendation stating that two women firearms officers should not be deployed together if a male one was available.

The email from Insp Keith Warhurst said that apart from “the obvious differences in physical capacity, it makes more sense from a search, balance of testosterone perspective.”

After a heated meeting where Malone challenged Warhurst about his memo, where he denied being sexist, he threatened to suspend her from duty because she was not acting in a “calm/restrained and controlled manner”.

She submitted a formal complaint against Warhurst alleging discrimination after a series of incidents, supported by often uncontested evidence from witnesses, including other female officers, of routinely sexist and abusive attitudes in the unit.

The tribunal found that those complaints included Warhurst distributing images of topless women on an internal WhatsApp group; Warhurst speaking of another male officer “fucking” a female colleague; Warhurst describing the pregnant wife of another as “a fucking fat bitch”; and a senior officer telling one female firearms officer to “fuck off” when she asked for a two-piece uniform instead of a boiler suit, as that made it easier to use the toilet.

The tribunal also heard that another female officer, Sgt Rachel Coates, was told by a senior instructor that women should not be firearms officers “because they menstruated and this would affect their temperament”.

Warhurst later apologised to Malone, but without their knowledge a senior officer continued to pursue an internal grievance following Malone’s earlier complaint. The tribunal found the internal inquiry reports were selective, inaccurate and wrongly implied both officers were equally to blame.

Malone submitted a grievance about the handling of her complaints, the actions of a senior officer investigating her complaints and Warhurst’s continuing role in requesting medical checks, and eventually applied to leave the police on the grounds of ill health.

After winning her tribunal case, Malone told the BBC that Police Scotland had initially asked her to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) in exchange for an out of court settlement, which she refused to sign. Malone also accused the Scottish Police Federation and its lawyers of trying to force her to accept the NDA, and then refusing to fund her legal action when she declined to accept it. The federation’s lawyer said she was “deliberately choosing to be stubborn”.

Margaret Gribbon, Malone’s lawyer, said: “My client has lost a promising police career and the tribunal heard evidence from other armed female officers who had been trained at considerable public expense, but have been driven out of the firearms division because of the rampant culture of sexism.”

In a statement issued on Friday, the force apologised for “its poor response when a dedicated and promising officer raised legitimate concerns. The chief constable also emphasised his personal commitment to leading change in policing in Scotland which drives equality and inclusion to improve the experiences of all women, including our own officers and staff.”