Female firearms officer, 43, was told she ‘shouldn’t be on patrol without a man’ and was targeted by Police Scotland bosses after she complained about ‘boys club culture’ and co-workers sharing topless photos of women on WhatsApp group

  • PC Rhona Malone had to put up with ‘horrific’ behaviour from male colleagues
  • But when reporting concerns to bosses she was targeted herself, tribunal rules
  • The anti-sexism campaigner will be awarded compensation at a later date

A female firearms officer was told she shouldn’t be on patrol without a man and was targeted by bosses after she complained about a sexist ‘boys club culture’ at Police Scotland. 

PC Rhona Malone had to put up with ‘horrific’ behaviour from male colleagues in which she and other women were subjected to misogynistic, belittling and abusive behaviour, while topless images of women were posted on the work WhatsApp group. 

But when she reported her concerns to bosses she was victimised herself, an employment tribunal ruled.

In particular, one female commanding officer repeatedly failed to tackle Ms Malone’s complaints because she did not want her career ‘overshadowed’ by allegations of sexism among her staff, the panel concluded.

The tribunal heard the ‘committed’ and ‘exemplary’ officer was left outraged after her boss, Inspector Keith Warhurst, sent an email round banning female officers being paired together, rather than with a man, due to his concerns over the ‘balance of testosterone’.

The panel chaired by Employment Judge Jane Porter found the shocking email was one of many sexist incidents in the firearms division of Police Scotland.

Insp Warhurst posted topless images of women on the work WhatsApp group, called a colleague’s pregnant partner a ‘f***ing fat bitch’, and told a male co-worker ‘you are going to end up f***ing that’ in relation to a female colleague.

The panel heard one female officer, Sergeant Rachel Coates, was told by a Chief Firearms Instructor that women should not be armed because they get periods and ‘this would affect their temperament’.

And when Sgt Coates asked the instructor for uniform which would allow her to go to the toilet without removing her gun belt, she was told to ‘f*** off’.

When PC Malone made an official complaint, she was then targeted by bosses at Police Scotland who withdrew her from her role, suggested she be transferred, demanded her GP clear her before she could return to armed duties and refused to take her grievances seriously.

Rhona Malone (pictured in her uniform) had to put up with ‘horrific’ behaviour from male colleagues in which she and other women were subjected to misogynistic, belittling and abusive behaviour

The tribunal found the 43-year-old was repeatedly victimised by female Chief Inspector Linda Russell – then Area Commander for Armed Policing – while Insp Warhurst got a promotion despite his offensive behaviour.

Ms Malone is now in line for compensation after successfully suing the force for victimisation.

The Edinburgh tribunal’s finding comes as the misogynistic behaviour of male police officers in Britain is under intense scrutiny following the case of Wayne Couzens – the Met police officer jailed for life last week for the murder of Sarah Everard.

The panel’s judgement – published yesterday – found that Ms Malone, a single mother of three, ‘loved’ her job and was an experienced officer of seven years at the time of joining the Armed Response Vehicles (ARV) in October 2016.

Having completed a 10 week training course, she was originally based in the Scottish capital where she had just one female colleague in a team of 12 firearms officers.

The tribunal heard that at the end of 2016, of a total of 60 armed police in Edinburgh, just four were women.

In its judgement, the panel said it accepted Ms Malone’s evidence – and testimony from four other officers – that the culture within ARV was ‘an absolute boys club culture’ and ‘horrific.’

Acting Inspector Warhurst was a repeat offender, the tribunal found.

‘Following his promotion to Temporary Inspector in May 2017 Keith Warhurst posted images of topless women on the WhatsApp group,’ the tribunal said.

He was also overheard referring to a female investigator as ‘a wee lassie’.

The hearing was told that in January 2018 Ms Malone and several colleagues including fellow female PC Freya Palmer received an email from him. It read: ‘I am going to plunge in with both feet and open myself up to being accused of being sexist!

‘For operational reasons I don’t want to see 2 x female officers deployed together when there are sufficient male staff on duty.

‘This is based upon my experience in the firearms and routine policing environment, other than the obvious differences in physical capacity, it makes more sense from a search, balance of testosterone perspective.

When the officer (pictured) reported her concerns to bosses she was targeted herself, an employment tribunal ruled

‘It is not a reflection on either Rhona or Freya! If you want to discuss my door is open.

‘Ladies, For the purpose of transparency I have included you in this email. Likewise if you want to discuss my door is open. Regards, K.’

Female firearms officers were left ‘really annoyed, flabbergasted and gobsmacked’ by the email. 

Ms Malone said she was ‘shocked and upset’ while furious police chiefs regarded it as ‘overtly sexist’.

However, when she met with Insp Warhurst and Insp Alan Findlay to complain, Insp Warhurst denied the message was sexist and Insp Warhurst warned her he might withdraw her from firearms duties because the meeting was getting ‘heated’.

Insp Findlay told her: ‘Rhona, I can see you are becoming frustrated and upset by what is being discussed with Keith, as a firearms officer you should be able to discuss this in a calm/restrained and controlled manner.’

Ms Malone – who was temporarily withdrawn from firearms duties – submitted a grievance in February 2018 and at mediation Insp Warhurst apologised.

However, he later referred Ms Malone to Occupational Health advisers requesting they obtain a report from her GP before her firearms licence could be returned.

The tribunal found this amounted to victimisation as there was ‘no need’ for a GP referral to get her licence back. It was the first time Insp Warhurst made such a request.

Following a ‘Women and Firearms’ forum, Ch Insp Russell – who was dealing with Ms Malone’s grievance – suggested she transfer from Edinburgh in an ‘attempt to resolve the grievance without having to air the issues in it’.

Now-retired Ch Insp Russell was found to have repeatedly victimised Ms Malone during the grievance process by handling it poorly, threatening to delay reinstating her licence, and failing to properly address sexism claims.

Judge Porter said Ch Insp Russell was ‘hostile and dismissive’ to Ms Malone, considered her sex discrimination complaints ‘petty’, and even ‘rolled her eyes’ at her.

Judge Porter said: ‘The Tribunal formed the view that Linda Russell did not wish her final years of her successful career to be overshadowed by a grievance of sexism handled externally to the department which might result in criticism of sexism within armed policing, being an area in which she, as a female Area Commander, sought to effect a change of culture.’

More than 20 complaints made about Ch Insp Russell’s handling of the grievance were not properly handled, it was found.

During the process, Ms Malone wrote to Chief Superintendent Andrew McDowall to complain – but he took no action.

The tribunal heard the ‘committed’ and ‘exemplary’ officer was left outraged after her boss, Inspector Keith Warhurst (pictured), sent an email round banning female officers being paired together, rather than with a man, due to his concerns over the ‘balance of testosterone’ 

‘His explanation for taking no action was simply that he receives thousands of emails; in his words, he ‘dropped the ball’,’ the tribunal heard.

Judge Porter said the explanation from the high-ranking officer was ‘implausible’.

As a result of the long delay in her return to full duties, Ms Malone lacked confidence and felt isolated which led to her requesting to leave the division.

She submitted an ill-health retirement request after becoming unwell – but the force even delayed granting that.

Senior HR worker Alasdair Muir was found to have mislead Ms Malone and her solicitors while delaying considering the application.

Ms Malone ended up experiencing severe financial hardship by October 2019 as her sick pay ran out. She finally retired from the force on grounds of ill health in April 2020.

Judge Porter ruled in favour of every single victimisation claim brought by Ms Malone.

Her claim of direct discrimination claim only failed on a technicality as Insp Warhurst’s order to not pair female officers together was never carried out in practice.

Ms Malone, who now campaigns to eradicate sexism in the police, will be awarded compensation at a later date. 

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