The High Court this week gave judgment in R(O’Connor) v Police Misconduct Panel & the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis  EWHC 2892 (Admin), on the judicial review application of Kristina O’Connor, in a case concerning how misconduct panels and police forces should investigate complaints of sexual harassment by police officers. Mr Justice Swift rejected the Claimant’s challenges to the decisions of both the Commissioner and the Panel.
In 2011 Ms O’Connor was the victim of a mugging. She contacted the Metropolitan Police and attended a local police station, where the now former officer Mr Mason (then a Detective Sergeant) took a witness statement from her. Mr Mason asked her inappropriate questions about her personal life and relationships, including asking her out for dinner that evening. On the following day, in response to Ms O’Connor emailing for an update on the police investigation, he made comments on her appearance and sought to establish a relationship with her.
In 2020 Ms O’Connor made a complaint to the Metropolitan Police where she disclosed her experience from 2011. The matter was investigated by the Metropolitan Police, who decided that Mr Mason (who was by then a Detective Chief Inspector) should face gross misconduct proceedings. In October 2021, a Police Misconduct Panel found that Mr Mason had committed gross misconduct, including by abusing his position through attempting to establish a sexual relationship with a victim of crime. The Panel imposed a Final Written Warning for a period of three years, but decided not to dismiss Mr Mason. Mr Mason later resigned from the Metropolitan Police Service in 2022.
Ms O’Connor sought judicial review of the Police Misconduct Panel’s decision to impose a Final Written Warning, alleging that the Panel had erred in its approach to sanction and that the sanction it imposed was irrational. Ms O’Connor also alleged failings in the Metropolitan Police’s investigation of her complaint, in particular whether the investigation had been legally required to consider breaches of the Standards of Professional Behaviour relating to Equality and Diversity.
Swift J dismissed the application against both the Metropolitan Police and the Panel. He determined that the Metropolitan Police’s investigation of the complaint had been lawful, noting that an investigation could reasonably be conducted in different ways each entirely consistent with the statutory purpose. It had not been unreasonable, given the age of the complaint, for the investigating officer to look for patterns of behaviour by checking whether or not other complaints had been made against the officer. There was no failure to have regard to IOPC Statutory Guidance and it was reasonable to characterise Mr Mason’s conduct as falling within the Discreditable Conduct standard of behaviour.
The Court also reviewed the Panel’s decision on outcome, concluding that there was no failure to have regard to the Outcomes Guidance from the College of Policing, nor a failure to treat the matter as one of operational dishonesty, and that the sanction imposed by the Panel was not irrational.
Anne Studd KC and David Messling acted for the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.