Police officer's use of racist term was 'unintentional aberration'

A police officer’s use of a racist term was an “unintentional aberration” and did not warrant her dismissal.

That was the decision of the High Court in a case involving Avon and Somerset police.

The issue arose after Avon’s chief constable appealed against a decision of the Police Misconduct Tribunal that the officer should be issued a final warning instead of being dismissed after she had been found guilty of gross misconduct.

The court heard that, while on duty in an open-plan office, the officer had held a conversation with a colleague in which she joked about her partner, who was sunbathing at home.

Another colleague overheard her saying words to the effect of "by the time I get home she'll look like a nig nog", then laughing and saying, "did I just say that?".

The officer accepted that she had used the term and that by doing so she was guilty of gross misconduct. She apologised, expressed remorse and claimed that her use of the term was inadvertent, and that she had not intended to victimise, offend or discriminate.

She said that her laughter was an emotional response indicating disbelief at what she had said.

The issue for the tribunal was whether she should be dismissed, and central to that question was whether her use of a racist term was an aberration or whether, as the chief constable claimed, it revealed something more concerning about her character.

The tribunal held that the offending term was not part of the officer's general vocabulary, that she had used it unintentionally and without meaning to offend, and that she took full responsibility for her actions.

On that basis, it issued a final written warning rather than dismiss her.

The High Court upheld that decision.

It said that the tribunal's conclusions as to the officer's mindset and intentions fell within the band of rational findings open to it.

The officer had made clear and full admissions and accepted the seriousness of her misconduct; she was ashamed, remorseful and deeply distressed by the hurt she had caused to the colleague who heard the remark and to the police force.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the issues raised in this article or any aspect of employment law.

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