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Panel says police chief should be spared sack over gross misconduct breasts jibe

Published 01/12/2016

Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Rebekah Sutcliffe
Greater Manchester Police Assistant Chief Constable Rebekah Sutcliffe

A female police chief who behaved "shockingly" and "cruelly" in a drunken tirade at a junior colleague about the size of her breasts should not be sacked, a disciplinary panel has recommended.

Assistant Chief Constable Rebekah Sutcliffe told Superintendent Sarah Jackson that her "credibility was zero" after she had a "boob job" and berated her as a "laughing stock" who would be judged professionally "on the size of her tits".

She then went on to pull down the front of her dress to expose her left breast to her Greater Manchester Police (GMP) colleague and say: "Look at these, look at these, these are the breasts of someone who has had three children. They are ugly but I don't feel the need to pump myself full of silicone to get self-esteem."

A panel consisting of chair Rachel Crasnow QC, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Tom Winsor and independent member Alastair Cannon found her gross misconduct had taken Ms Sutcliffe to "the very precipice of dismissal".

But instead they recommended to GMP Deputy Chief Constable Ian Pilling that she should receive a final written warning.

Ms Sutcliffe, 47, admitted misconduct in failing to treat Ms Jackson with respect or courtesy and that she abused her position and authority.

She also acknowledged that her actions discredited the police service.

However she had denied it amounted to gross misconduct.

Ms Sutcliffe who was the most senior female Greater Manchester Police officer at the time, verbally attacked her younger subordinate following a gala dinner at the national senior women in policing conference last May.

The haranguing in the early hours of May 6 at Manchester's Hilton Hotel concluded when Ms Sutcliffe told her colleague she was no longer going to support a further promotion for her.

Ms Jackson, who was appointed by Ms Sutcliffe as a temporary superintendent in a secondment role, later said she was "shocked, mortified, embarrassed and ashamed" at the comments made by her superior.

On Tuesday, the panel was told that Ms Jackson, who has since transferred to Cumbria Constabulary, had suffered "great anxiety from the night itself and since".

Ms Jackson, who was not present at the hearing, stated: "It has been the most distressing and hurtful experience of my life."

Announcing the panel's recommendation, Ms Crasnow said: "Assistant Chief Constable Sutcliffe allowed herself to drink too much and when drunk behaved shockingly, cruelly and hurtfully to Sarah Jackson and she stupidly exposed her breast.

"It was gratuitous behaviour and the conversation started on her own initiative."

Ms Crasnow said it was a "difficult case" in deciding whether the public was best served by Ms Sutcliffe losing her job or working under a disciplinary sanction.

She said Ms Sutcliffe - who has served GMP for 23 years - had "let herself down" and that "her behaviour fell far far below the conduct to be expected of any police officer and a role model of her rank".

But the panel accepted it was out of character and noted she had worked hard to rehabilitate herself during her period of suspension since the incident.

She concluded: "This case has taken Assistant Chief Constable Sutcliffe to the very precipice of dismissal.

"What has saved her has been her contrition, the steps she has taken and must continue to take to reform herself, the severe damage she has done to her career prospects and the very high professional esteem in which she is justifiably held.

"Public confidence does not in this case require the dismissal of the officer."

She added though that a chief officer with "a slightly weaker record would not have been able to survive this".

Ms Sutcliffe breathed a heavy sigh of relief when the recommendation was announced.

Earlier, her counsel, John Beggs QC said the "sheer quality and quantity" of the character references - more than 200 pages - before the panel "entitle you to come to a decision which is not career-ending".

He said many of the statements from senior and subordinate officers spoke of her as "inspirational", "visionary" and "a strong leader".

One unnamed female detective chief inspector at GMP said she is "a role model to many women in the organisation".

Mr Beggs said: "Assistant Chief Constable Sutcliffe remains a role model - a role model who is not perfect, who has human frailties.

"Greater humility has been brought upon her. She will emerge as an even more impressive senior leader if you permit her to."

In a statement issued after the hearing, Ms Jackson said: "I was not a willing participant in the incident and I did not bring up or wish to speak to her about anything personal.

"Despite not initiating or encouraging the incident, I greatly regret that members of the public had to witness it and that the reputation of Greater Manchester Police has been damaged by it, as these are two things I care very deeply about.

"ACC Sutcliffe herself recognises I was not at fault and has apologised to me several times."

A further hearing in public is expected in the New Year when Mr Pilling will make the final decision on Ms Sutcliffe's future.

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