Undercover police officers 'sidelined after blowing whistle about unsafe practices'
West Yorkshire's police force has been told to pay compensation to two undercover officers who were moved into back office roles after raising concerns about sexism and unsafe practices in their unit.
The two police constables were successful in their claim at an employment tribunal that they were sidelined by West Yorkshire Police after exposing wrongdoing at the force.
They claimed that after being injured in a job they were unable to contact their line manager or ‘cover officer’, and that the same officer appeared to be “under the influence” of alcohol while on duty.
The tribunal was also told that a senior officer had refused to allow them to take a gun off the streets by buying it from a criminal, a result “contrary to their primary responsibilities as police officers”.
And the officers alleged sexist behaviour on the part of their superiors, claiming that one had referred to women as only good to use “on the arm” of male undercover officers.
They told the tribunal that after complaining about the unsafe practices they were moved off the undercover unit and moved into back office policing roles.
After many of their victimisation claims were accepted by the tribunal panel, they were compensated for injury to feeling and loss of wages.
According to their solicitors, the officers have now made complaints to Chief Constable Dee Collins, named as the respondent in the tribunal claim, but the matter has not been referred to the watchdog the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
The ruling offers an insight into the secret world of undercover policing, where officers can be told to stay ‘in character’ for months or even years to infiltrate dangerous criminal gangs.
The tribunal ruling said: “The work of an undercover police officer is clearly very varied and undoubtedly at great risk to the individual officers’ personal safety and psychological wellbeing.”
It focused on two officers referred to as Mr C and Mr B, who claimed the concerns they raised with management were ‘protected disclosures’ in the public interest and that they suffered “detrimental treatment” as a result.
Mr C was made to return to work from sick leave in a civilian role, while Mr B was offered a uniformed policing role in Leeds in November 2013 before being posted to a civilian role.
In its judgement, the panel said it was interested in whether the concerns they raised were ‘protected disclosures’ and not whether claimants were accurate in their views about particular situations.
Jennifer Ainscough from Slater and Gordon, who represented the officers, said: “It was with great courage that my clients blew the whistle, whilst deployed undercover, on the very managers who they entrusted with their safety.
“The Tribunal has determined that they were punished for doing so and their undercover careers are over. My clients have now complained to the Chief Constable about their treatment but the matter has yet to be referred to the IPCC despite this damning ruling.”
Nick Smart, chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, said: “We are pleased to see the judgement recognises that the two undercover officers have been vindicated for doing the right thing in highlighting such improper and unprofessional practices by more senior officers.
“This has been a particularly stressful experience for both officers who have suffered greatly throughout the investigations, and we continue to support the officers moving forward.
“We now hope that the force heeds the judgement and refers this matter to the IPCC.”
In response, West Yorkshire Police said: “We acknowledge the judgement, but cannot comment further as the matter is subject of an appeal.”