A police chief who told a junior colleague her breast enhancement surgery had harmed her career prospects committed gross misconduct, a disciplinary panel has ruled.
Assistant chief constable Rebekah Sutcliffe told Supt Sarah Jackson that her “credibility was zero” after the procedure and berated her as a “laughing stock” who would be judged professionally “on the size of her tits”.
She then pulled down the front of her own dress to expose her left breast and told Jackson: “Look at these, look at these – these are the breasts of someone who has had three children. They are ugly, but I don’t feel the need to pump myself full of silicone to get self-esteem.”
Sutcliffe, who was the most senior female officer at Greater Manchester police when the incident occurred on 6 May last year, launched the drunken tirade at superintendent Sarah Jackson after a gala dinner at the national Senior Women in Policing conference.
The incident took place in the early hours of the morning at Manchester’s Hilton hotel and ended with Sutcliffe telling Jackson she would no longer support a further promotion for her. Sutcliffe had earlier appointed Jackson a temporary superintendent in a secondment role.
The hearing heard that Jackson, who has since transferred to Cumbria constabulary, had been left “shocked, mortified, embarrassed and ashamed” at the comments made by her superior and had suffered “great anxiety from the night itself and since”. She said: “It has been the most distressing and hurtful experience of my life.”
Sutcliffe had admitted the less serious allegation of misconduct in failing to treat with respect or courtesy and that she had abused her position and authority. She also acknowledged that her actions discredited the police service. She denied they amounted to gross misconduct, which could lead to her dismissal. The panel disagreed.
The chair of the panel, Rachel Crasnow QC, said Sutcliffe had “behaved shockingly, cruelly and hurtfully to Sarah Jackson, and she stupidly exposed her breast”, having allowed herself to get drunk.
Sitting on the panel alongside the chief inspector of constabulary, Sir Tom Winsor, and an independent member, Alastair Cannon, Crasnow said: “It was gratuitous behaviour, and the conversation started on her own initiative. She abused her senior position and referred to third parties in a hectoring and bullying way. It was a prolonged and deliberate attack upon Supt Jackson which lasted more than a hour.”
Crasnow added that she did not accept the comments were simply “unkind”, but said they were “aggressive, bullying and cruel” and “damaged the self-esteem of a more junior colleague”. She said Jackson had been left crying during the exchange and that Sutcliffe’s behaviour had fallen below that which could be expected of someone of her rank: “She let herself down.”
The incident also “eclipsed” the good work of the Senior Women in Policing conference and damaged both Greater Manchester police and policing nationally, Crasnow said. She added that it was difficult to decide whether the public interest was better served by Sutcliffe losing her job or by her working under a disciplinary sanction. The senior officer, she said, had gone to the “very precipice of dismissal”.
But the QC pointed out that it was not a dishonesty matter, was not premeditated, and did not take place during the course of operational duties, though it did concern police work matters because the conversation centred on the reputation and career prospects of the junior officer.
“We accept [Sutcliffe] has worked hard at rehabilitating herself during the months of suspension, when she must have felt ashamed and humiliated. We do accept it was out of character and probably largely in result of a very large confluence of great pressures.”
The panel recommended that Sutcliffe receive a final written warning, rather than be dismissed. The hearing was adjourned and it is expected that Greater Manchester police’s deputy chief constable, Ian Pilling, will make a decision next year.
Crasnow said: “What has saved [Sutcliffe] has been her contrition, the steps she has taken and must continue to take to reform herself, the severe damage she has done to her career prospects, and the very high professional esteem in which she is justifiably held.
“Public confidence does not in this case require the dismissal of the officer. However, there should be no doubt among senior officers that had the balance of factors in this case, of someone with a particularly distinguished record, been even slightly different, a chief officer’s career would have been cut suddenly short.
“A chief officer with a slightly weaker record would not have able to survive this.”