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Met Police chief who wrote anti-drugs strategy sacked for refusing drug test over cannabis use claim

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A Metropolitan Police commander who wrote the force’s anti-drugs strategy has been sacked for failing to supply a sample over suspicions he had smoked cannabis.

Commander Julian Bennett, who wrote the strategy for 2017-21 as a commander for territorial policing, was cleared by a disciplinary panel of using the drug at home in late 2019.

However, he was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed by the force for failing to provide a urine sample on July 21 2020. It came after his former flatmate Sheila Gomes claimed he smoked the drug daily before breakfast and leaving for work at New Scotland Yard.

Ms Gomes, who lived in Mr Bennett’s flat for around two months from October 2019, told the misconduct hearing: “Why did I have to live in a place where it was just cannabis in the air, I was just trying to breathe oxygen.”

Mr Bennett was also accused of taking LSD at a party and magic mushrooms while on holiday in France. But the tribunal was told that was “hearsay” Ms Gomes was told by another housemate.

She told an earlier hearing in July that she believed Mr Bennett – who has served in the force since 1976 – was a lawyer rather than a senior police officer until after she stopped living with him, and had never seen him in uniform.

Adding that he had smoked before breakfast, she said: “Because of his erratic behaviour, for me, I was thinking he’s a drug dealer.”

Having allegedly photographed a bag of cannabis, cigarette papers, tobacco and lighters in their home on 7 December and sending a friend a WhatsApp message referring to Mr Bennett smoking cannabis at the flat, Ms Gomes telephoned Scotland Yard on 17 July 2020 to complain the commander had been smoking cannabis before work.

On 21 July, Mr Bennett was asked to provide a sample but he refused. He offered to resign 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” if Mr Bennett had been allowed to resign on the spot.

He told officers he had been taking CBD (cannabidiol) to treat facial palsy and was worried the sample would come up positive for an innocent reason, the tribunal heard.

During the hearing, Mr Bennett was accused of breaching the force’s professional standards for discreditable conduct three times, honesty and integrity twice and orders and instructions once – allegations he denied.

Breaking down at the misconduct hearing in Southwark, Mr Bennett had told the panel “the Met needs me” , and that the allegations made by Ms Gomes were “incredible stuff”.

“This investigation has taken three years and cost £1.5m; a lot of that has been public money,” he said. “I have got an in-built, strong work ethic. I am embarrassed I have spent so much public money on this.

“It is not for my own benefit. I would rather be at work and given the opportunity I would go back.”

After a private meeting with Assistant Commissioner Louisa Rolfe on 21 July in which he refused to take a drugs test, the tribunal was told he asked to approach then-Commissioner Cressida Dick, whom he referred to as ‘Cress’, in order to offer his resignation.

Mark Ley-Morgan KC, representing the force, said: “Please explain to us how that is not a cover-up, or sweeping something under the carpet?”

Mr Bennett denied this, and responded: “You can’t resign to avoid something; this would not have stopped the investigation.”

Representing Mr Bennett, John Beggs KC accused Ms Gomes of being a fantasist, a “gold-digger” and of seeking financial gains from her allegations.

When giving evidence, the senior officer said he was “horrified” to see the photo appearing to show cannabis and cigarette papers in his flat, and that he knew nothing about it and would have been at yoga at the time.

He described her claims as “bizarre” and told the tribunal he believed her to be a “lonely, troubled individual”.

During his career with the Met, Mr Bennett had been frequently praised for his work, with the deputy commissioner Sir Stephen House expressing “personal appreciation” in April 2020.

Within his role, he had written the document ‘Dealing With The Impact Of Drugs On Communities’, which set up plans to raise “awareness of the impact of drug misuse”.

He also presided over dozens of misconduct hearings between 2010 and 2012, with two of the 56 officers who were subsequently dismissed fired for using drugs.

Concluding that his refusal to provide a sample amounted to gross misconduct, panel chairman Akbar Khan said Mr Bennett‘s behaviour was “deliberate and intentional, seeking a personal advantage or special treatment from the commissioner”.

Mr Khan dismissed Mr Gomes’ allegations, saying she “exaggerates”, “lies” and that some of her claims were “entirely fabricated”.

He added: “Overall, the panel finds Sheila Gomes’ 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.”

After the hearing, Assistant Commissioner Barbara Gray said Mr Bennett’s actions were “deplorable” and the public “will justifiably be outraged” by his refusal to comply with a drug test.

“Commander Bennett was highly experienced and knew full well what was required of him, yet he made a choice not to cooperate. 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.”

His lawyer John Beggs KC indicated he would appeal the panel decision.


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