Discrimination by the Police

Given the many headlines arising from the recent U.S Presidential and Congressional elections – not least Donald Trump’s retreat to his golf bunker and refusal to concede defeat – a story which may have passed below the radar was the landmark election of Sarah McBride, a transwoman and LGBT rights campaigner, to the Delaware State Senate, making her the highest-ranking transgender government official in US history.

Although there is greater awareness than ever in today’s world of transgender rights and non-binary or gender-fluid identities, that doesn’t mean that overt, let alone more subtle, forms of prejudice against transgender people have been extinguished, even where such prejudice is most reprehensible of all – amongst the guardians of law and order, as the case of my client Charlie Tatton (name changed) demonstrates.

Charlie is a transgender male (assigned female at birth) who was, at the time of these events, undergoing testosterone treatment and awaiting surgery. In September 2019 Charlie attended at Swansea Central Police Station, having been informed by his neighbours that Police Officers had earlier called at his address, and on arrival at the station, he was arrested.

Charlie was then detained for around 4 hours before being ‘processed’ for release, which included the taking of his fingerprints and a DNA sample. Whilst this process was ongoing, a female Custody Detention Officer (CDO) was searching the Police computer system for data on Charlie, in the same room.

The CDO suddenly piped up “Right, what was your She Name?…What was your She Name, ‘cause you’re a He Name now aren’t you?”

Charlie did not respond, as he found the question offensive, which resulted in the CDO accusing him of causing them “complications.”

Charlie then did offer his previous name, which caused the CDO to respond, in a grossly insensitive and intrusive manner “So are you going through the process? Do you have the paperwork? So what about your bits? Are you male or female down there?”

The CDO then went on to badger Charlie about having “the right paperwork” to confirm his gender and continued to make unnecessary and offensive comments, which seemed to nakedly demonstrate the CDO’s distaste for/ disapproval of transgender people including an accusation that it was “not nice” for male officers searching a transman not to know if he was, as the CDO put it, “a female [down] there.” This was tantamount, in Charlie’s view, to asking “What have you got between your legs?”

Charlie had been in Police custody before, and had never been treated so rudely; following his release, he immediately made a formal complaint.

Unfortunately, the Inspector designated to deal with the matter, decided that the complaint was so minor it could be dealt with by “Local resolution” rather than an investigation i.e brushed under the carpet.

Charlie quite rightly protested this decision, and in December 2019 the Professional Standards Department of South Wales Police acknowledged that the complaint should have been subject to a formal investigation but as the original Inspector had “effectively investigated the matter”, nothing further would now been done.

Charlie then consulted me, and I sent a letter of claim to South Wales Police, seeking damages for breaches of the Equality Act 2010, the only remedy now open to Charlie after the frustration of the complaint process.

The Equality Act allows any person who has suffered discrimination or harassment as a result of any of the following “protected characteristics” to seek restitution through an award of damages-

·         age;

·         disability;

·         gender reassignment;

·         marriage and civil partnership;

·         pregnancy and maternity;

·         race;

·         religion or belief;

·         sex;

·         sexual orientation.

It is an important piece of legislation, which has recently been praised by Pauline Hughes, an Employment Tribunal Judge, for enabling a new generation of Rosa Parks or Martin Luther Kings to teach valuable lessons to institutions which tolerate discriminatory behaviour amongst their staff, or do not do enough to stamp it out.

In response to the claim, South Wales Police admitted liability for violating Charlie’s dignity  and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or offensive environment for him, through the actions and comments of the female CDO.

The implication of the questions and comments by the CDO was that the CDO had felt that Charlie should be intimately searched by female rather than male officers, which would have been degrading and humiliating to Charlie. Despite Charlie clearly informing the CDO that her line of questioning was both irrelevant and rude, she had nonetheless persisted, abusing the position of authority she held over him, apparently to satisfy her own personal prejudices/ curiosity. Further insult was then added to this injury, when Charlie’s legitimate complaint was initially deemed so inconsequential that it was suitable for local resolution (a decision effectively upheld by PSD, despite lip service to the contrary).

The Police, having admitted liability, made a derisory offer of settlement of only £1,000 causing me to have to commence Court proceedings on behalf of Charlie. I am pleased to confirm that a final settlement has now been negotiated in the sum of £7,500 damages, though as with so many of my clients, Charlie would have appreciated just as much an early and fulsome apology from the Police, and in particular, the CDO responsible.

In addressing Charlie’s complaint, South Wales Police made it clear that they have produced a Transgender Handbook for Police staff, which has been circulated to remind staff to respect the dignity of members of all communities, including the use of “acceptable terminology”. Frankly, I wouldn’t have thought that anyone needed a booklet to tell them not to be so blatantly and unnecessarily rude as the CDO was towards Charlie, but given that it does appear necessary to teach such lessons to certain members of the “Police community”, I would hope that genuine efforts are made to educate staff and change their behaviour (particularly behaviour towards individuals who are already in the very vulnerable and distressing position of being detainees in Police custody) and that those efforts do not just stop at the printed page, as another form of paying “lip service” to a problem without actually solving it.

Author: iaingould

Actions against the police solicitor (lawyer) and blogger.