Senior Met Police officer sacked after he refuses to do drugs test

Julian Bennett (PA)
Julian Bennett (PA)

A Metropolitan Police commander has lost his job after he refused to take a drug test when he was accused of smoking cannabis.

Julian Bennett, who served in the force from 1976, was cleared by a disciplinary panel of using the drug at home in late 2019.

But he was found to have committed gross misconduct when he would not provide a urine sample on July 21, 2020.

Mr Bennett said he had been taking CBD (cannabidiol) to treat facial palsy and was worried the sample would come up positive for an innocent reason.

Panel chairman Akbar Khan said: “It is highly improbable the officer believed he had a good reason for failing to comply with a lawful order.

“Harm has undoubtedly been caused to the reputation of the Metropolitan Police Service.”

However, the panel rejected an allegation that Mr Bennett had given an explanation for refusing a sample which he “knew to be untrue”.

Mr Bennett’s former flatmate, Sheila Gomes, claimed he had used the cannabis daily before breakfast and leaving for work at New Scotland Yard, but the three-person panel rejected that allegation.

It was after Ms Gomes reported Mr Bennett in July 2020, that he he was called in and, in the presence of an assistant commissioner, asked to provide a sample.

He offered to resign on the spot instead, and asked for a meeting with then-commissioner Dame Cressida Dick.

Mark Ley-Morgan KC, representing the Metropolitan Police, said it would have smacked of “organised corruption at the highest level” and compromised her integrity if Mr Bennett had been allowed to resign on the spot.

He added that Mr Bennett most likely decided to involve the ex-commissioner “to secure for himself high-level cover to deflect inevitable criticism and embarrassment that would come his way”.

The chairman also said that “if the goal of resignation was to avoid embarrassing” the Met this was “unlikely to be achieved”.

Mr Khan said Mr Bennett’s behaviour was “deliberate and intentional, seeking a personal advantage or special treatment from the commissioner” and that he would have had a “unique insight” into what would have been a good reason to refuse a sample.

Outlining the panel’s reasons for sacking Mr Bennett, Mr Khan said he had “shown limited insight regarding the proven conduct”.

He said this may lead the public to be “concerned his mindset demonstrates an attitude of one rule for senior officers and a different rule for a lower rank officer”.

Speaking of Ms Gomes’s claims, the panel chairman said she “exaggerates”, “lies” and that some of her claims were “entirely fabricated”.

He added: “Overall, the panel finds Sheila Gomes’s account to be unpersuasive and lacking in cogency.

“Of particular importance are the panel’s findings that Sheila Gomes exaggerates and has lied significantly damages her credibility and reliability.

“It is highly improbable that the officer smoked cannabis daily.”

By failing to provide the sample, Mr Bennett was found to have breached force standards for honesty and integrity, orders and instructions and discreditable conduct.

Mr Bennett wrote the force’s drugs strategy for 2017-21 as a commander for territorial policing.

The document, called Dealing With The Impact Of Drugs On Communities, set up plans to raise “awareness of the impact of drug misuse”.

He chaired misconduct panels over several years and freedom of information requests showed he presided over 74 police misconduct hearings involving 90 officers between June 2010 and February 2012.

Out of the hearings involving Mr Bennett, 56 officers were dismissed – more than three-quarters.

He chaired 69 hearings during that time and two officers were dismissed for drug misuse, the figures showed.

Allegations that he took magic mushrooms on holiday in France and LSD at a party were dismissed as hearsay by the panel during the summer’s tribunal hearing.

Those claims were made by Hugo Pereria, who lived with the complainant Ms Gomes and Mr Bennett in late 2019, but the tribunal was told he “always lied” before the panel threw out the claims.

Mr Bennett will appeal against the panel’s decision.

His solicitors said in a statement: “The panel found that Commander Bennett did not take any drugs, cannabis or otherwise.

“The panel found Cdr Bennett guilty of refusing to take a drug test, something he had always admitted.

“The panel also found Cdr Bennett guilty of misconduct that he had not been charged with: this concerns an alleged lack of integrity.

“This finding was despite the prosecution agreeing with the defence that this was not a permissible finding.

“Since Commander Bennett has been found guilty of a lack of integrity that he had not been charged with, Commander Bennett has no choice but to appeal so that the sanction decision is retaken on a proper rather than improper basis.”

Met Police Assistant Commissioner Barbara Gray said: “Julian Bennett’s actions were deplorable. He was a senior officer and showed complete disregard and disrespect for the standards we must all uphold.

“The public will justifiably be outraged that any police officer, but particularly one of such a senior rank, refused a lawful order to take a drugs test.

“Commander Bennett was highly experienced and knew full well what was required of him, yet he made a choice not to co-operate. He could have been in no doubt of the professional standards required as he was responsible for chairing the misconduct hearings of numerous officers between 2010 and 2016.

“His actions have further damaged not only the public’s trust in us as an organisation, but also the confidence of our own officers and staff in those who lead them.”