Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland policeman who refused to shave beard gets £10k

Tribunal: Gordon Downey
Tribunal: Gordon Downey
Allan Preston

By Allan Preston

A PSNI firearms officer who refused an order to shave his beard has been awarded £10,000 by an employment tribunal.

Constable Gordon Downey received a temporary transfer away from the Armed Response Unit after he refused to comply with a policy that required officers to be clean shaven.

It had been argued that facial hair would interfere with breathing apparatus that officers in the predominantly male unit could be required to use.

He had initially tried to shave his beard down to a moustache, but this was still rejected.

During the tribunal an expert argued that an officer would need "a moustache like a walrus" to interfere with the breathing masks.

It also emerged that the canisters attached to the masks were out of date.

The employment tribunal unanimously agreed that Constable Downey had been discriminated against contrary to the Sex Discrimination (NI) Order 1976.

He was awarded more than £10,000 for hurt feelings and loss of earnings.

The PSNI said it was aware of the tribunal's findings and was examining the detail.

Speaking to BBC News NI, Constable Downey said: "The policy itself, which was first introduced in 2017, was being enforced against men under health and safety grounds, yet females within our unit had hair in contravention of the same policy - not facial hair but head hair, where there was a grab risk.

"The policy was being enforced against men, not against female officers.

"As an older person with a receding hairline and alopecia who is slightly overweight, all I can do is grow a bit of fur on my top lip. To have that removed for absolutely no reason is wrong".

Niall McMullan from Worthingtons solicitors, who represented Constable Downey, said: "My client is happy with the result and we await reaction from the PSNI in respect of the impugned policy which the tribunal has now declared to be discriminatory, in effect, to males.

"That the PSNI have adopted a policy at a time when the relevant officers were not trained operationally in the use of the safety masks, together with the fact the canisters attached to the masks were out of date, beggars belief."

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