Police worker loses sex bias tribunal

By Jon PettyTHE partner of Colchester's most senior police officer has lost her battle to prove sexual discrimination by the Essex force.An employment tribunal has thrown out the claim, along with another of unfair dismissal, brought by Judy Soanes after considering evidence from a five-day hearing.

By Jon Petty

THE partner of Colchester's most senior police officer has lost her battle to prove sexual discrimination by the Essex force.

An employment tribunal has thrown out the claim, along with another of unfair dismissal, brought by Judy Soanes after considering evidence from a five-day hearing.

Miss Soanes, 49, had alleged that a disciplinary investigation into claims that she bullied and harassed colleagues in the force's criminal justice unit had been influenced by her long-term relationship with Chief Superintendent David Murthwaite, the Colchester division commander.


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She quit her £27,000-a-year post as a civilian manager in June last year, claiming her treatment and the failure of Essex Police to offer her a suitable alternative job amounted to unfair dismissal.

But the three-member tribunal panel sitting in Bury St Edmunds has now ruled in favour of Essex Police, who had denied Miss Soanes' allegations.

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Brian Mitchell, tribunal chairman, said it was clear from the evidence that Miss Soanes had chosen to resign and had not been effectively dismissed.

Miss Soanes, of The Causeway, Great Horkesley, had spent 28 years working in a civilian role for Essex Police and at the time of her departure had been in charge of 45 staff.

Efforts had been made to find her another job, but she declined those on offer saying they were not of a high enough grade, the tribunal heard.

Charles Obazuaye, who was the force's head of human resources at the time, said Miss Soanes' preferred option of being made redundant was turned down because senior officials were concerned it could look as if she was “being paid off”.

The disciplinary investigation of her conduct was launched when colleagues in the criminal justice unit in Colchester complained about the way she had treated them.

One complained of “public humiliation” with Miss Soanes making unwarranted criticisms in front of other office staff.

The investigation concluded that while Miss Soanes had committed misconduct, her behaviour did not amount to gross misconduct that would have led to dismissal.

But it was concluded that a return to the Colchester office would not be possible and Chief Superintendent Andrew Adams told the tribunal a search had begun to find her an alternative post.

Chief Supt Adams strongly denied that Miss Soanes' 14-year relationship with Chief Supt Murthwaite had in any way influenced the way that she had been treated.

He said: “In the same circumstances I would have treated any other employee of Essex Police in the same way.”

Speaking after the hearing, an Essex Police spokesman said: “We're pleased with the outcome of this case. Essex Police are committed to ensuring staff are treated with dignity and respect.”

He added allegations against the force were “rare”, but whenever they surfaced they were treated seriously.

Chief Supt Murthwaite, who is retiring from the force on September 30, said he was “disappointed” with the judgment.

“I'm clearly disappointed with the result, which I think is wrong. The bases on which they made their decision are incorrect,” he said.

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