Belfast Telegraph

Officer’s case against PSNI over ‘beard-gate’ to be decided in weeks

The judge in the PSNI 'beardgate' tribunal is expected to give her verdict in several weeks' time after final submissions were heard yesterday
The judge in the PSNI 'beardgate' tribunal is expected to give her verdict in several weeks' time after final submissions were heard yesterday
Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

The judge in the PSNI 'beardgate' tribunal is expected to give her verdict in several weeks' time after final submissions were heard yesterday.

The employment tribunal case is being brought by Constable Gordon Downey against Chief Constable George Hamilton.

Mr Downey was temporarily transferred from the predominantly male Armed Response Unit (ARU) in February 2018 for not being willing to comply with a policy forcing officers to be clean-shaven.

If the tribunal finds in his favour, it could open the floodgates for further male officers to take action, while policies concerning female officers sporting ponytails will also come under scrutiny.

In summing up, Judge Gamble said there was now "a lot to consider" in the evidence provided and "it will be a number of weeks before I am in a position to do that".

The case centres over whether respiratory masks used in certain police units, and which are supposed to be airtight, can be used safely if the officer has facial hair.

Expert advice to the panel previously claimed men would need "a moustache like a walrus" for the equipment not to work properly.

But the PSNI are maintaining that what they see as a clear breach of the policy - non-compliance - was the reason for Mr Downey "being taken to task".

In final submissions, solicitors for the respondent, the PSNI, maintain there was no discrimination or victimisation and that all measures were taken on health and safety grounds.

With regards to Mr Downey's claim that female officers were treated differently, the PSNI lawyer said there "was nothing to suggest females would have been treated any differently".

That argument was countered with Mr Downey claiming it was all too apparent that no action was being taken against female officers "with blonde bushy ponytails".

Previous evidence in the case centred on female officers with ponytails hanging out as they couldn't get them tucked under their helmets.

Chief Inspector McCreery had earlier told the hearing he only became aware of a number of female police officers who were "pulled to the ground and kicked" when Mr Downey presented his case last year, but he reported breaches to his line manager as soon as he learned about them in June 2018.

He had admitted that he was not aware of any female officer being transferred as a result of breaching the policy.

Mr Downey's lawyer asserted that this was an example of "a discriminatory application of PSNI policy", when looking at Mr Downey's case.

New rules outlawing beards and facial hair were implemented last year for some units in the PSNI due to health and safety concerns.

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