Northern Ireland

PSNI settles alleged sexual harassment case

PSNI Crest Image copyright PSNI

A civilian employee has settled her legal action against the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) over its handling of alleged sexual harassment at work.

Sinead Hampson's barrister confirmed the confidential resolution reached following negotiations at the High Court in Belfast.

The lawsuit is to be stayed, with her costs paid by the police service as part of the terms.

No further details were disclosed.

Formal complaint

Ms Hampson was seeking damages claiming that unwanted sexualised touching, harassment and bullying were "brushed under the carpet" amid a culture of misogyny and male chauvinism within the force.

At the start of the case on Wednesday, a judge was told three other women made allegations of inappropriate behaviour against the same detective, including incidents of being slapped on the backside and told to bend over for a spanking.

Ms Hampson, an administrative assistant, was the only one of the four to make a formal complaint.

The alleged contact occurred at stations in Londonderry between 2009 and 2012.

It was claimed that Det Con Ronan Sharkey repeatedly put his hands on her shoulders during incidents in work.

Mr Sharkey, since promoted to sergeant, denied her claims and those made by the other women. He never faced any prosecution.

But the court heard an internal disciplinary process resulted in a finding that he breached Ms Hampson's integrity by placing his hand on her hip.

'Inappropriate'

He was cautioned and fined £250.

Ms Hampson's lawyer argued that physical contact from a serving police officer 20 years older than her was completely inappropriate.

Although his superiors were said to have separated the detective from Ms Hampson, the lawyer said that was not enough.

He insisted that any so-called "touchy-feely" behaviour has no place in the workplace.

The PSNI's handling of the allegations, the lawyer contended, amounted to "a complete dereliction of the duty and obligation of a major employer in the 21st century".

'Sexism and misogyny'

Branding the force's response as "utterly deplorable, appalling", he claimed it amounted to male chauvinism being tolerated, or brushed under the carpet.

What happened within that branch of the police amounted to sexism or misogyny, the court was told.

The case was set to run for five days, but out-of-court negotiations instead led to the settlement being reached.

Asking the judge to stay the action, Ms Hampson's lawyer said: "I'm glad to say we have been able to resolve our differences."