A JUDGE has ruled the National Crime Agency did have grounds to dismiss an intelligence officer looking into child grooming gangs in Rotherham over alleged racist comments — but has upheld her claim for unfair dismissal after finding “procedural failings”.
The officer was working on Operation Stovewood — the NCA’s probe into historic abuse allegations in the borough in the wake of the Jay Report — when she took part in a “cultural awareness” training session in 2019.
An employment tribunal heard she had raised concerns about the man leading the training session, during which she was said to have made remarks other staff considered racist.
Following a disciplinary investigation, the officer, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was given extra training and told no further action would be taken.
But she was later referred to the NCA’s professional standards department for a new investigation, after which she was dismissed for gross misconduct.
After losing an appeal, she filed a claim for unfair dismissal, which was upheld on Friday by employment judge Olivia-Faith Dobbie.
Judge Dobbie found that the NCA officer who chaired the disciplinary panel had had “reasonable” grounds to believe the intelligence officer had made comments during the training session which witnesses had “construed” as being racist.
But the judge said the NCA had made serious errors, including failing to follow its own procedures, which required all potential misconduct involving alleged racism to be referred to its professional standards team for investigation.
She also highlighted the “inordinate delay” in the NCA’s disciplinary process, noting that what should have been a straightforward investigation into what she called “a simple case of ‘he said, she said’” had in fact taken ten months to find misconduct — and a further six months to hear and rule on the appeal.
Judge Dobbie said the claimant, who has always denied making the comments attributed to her by witnesses, would more than likely have been considered to have been fairly dismissed “if these failures had not been made”.
The comments were said to have been made during a discussion around the hypothetical arrest of a Muslim suspect for allegations of CSE.
The trainer said when questioned that one female officer, who he did not identify, had remarked “Muslims have it easy here” and that suspects “would not be traumatised if they spoke English”.
The officer said she had commented that law enforcement agencies in the UK were better than those in other countries — a remark she believed had been misconstrued.
Four staff who attended the training session told the disciplinary investigation they had heard her make comments they believed to be racist.
An earlier session of the tribunal heard a recording of a “lengthy and detailed” account of her recollection of the training session had been lost - a claim which was not denied by the NCA.
In her ruling on the unfair dismissal claim, the judge said: “She (the claimant) did contribute to her own dismissal.
“I do not find that she made the comments alleged against her, but she did make comments that four others considered as being racist.”
The judge told the claimant: “The respondent (the NCA) did have grounds to dismiss but due to the procedural failings including the fact you were reassured it was not going to go any further, I am going to uphold your claim of unfairness.
“You would have been fairly dismissed but for these errors.”
Details of the compensation to be paid will be discussed at a later hearing.