Robyn Williams: how police officer fired over child abuse video won her job back
Independent panel finds dismissal should be replaced with a final warning
A highly decorated police officer who was sacked after being sent a WhatsApp message featuring a child abuse video has been reinstated after a tribunal ruled her dismissal “unreasonable” and “unfair”.
A former acting chief superintendent, Novlett Robyn Williams was sentenced in November 2019 to 200 hours of community service for possession of an indecent image and was then sacked by the Metropolitan Police in March 2020 after a disciplinary hearing ruled that she had committed “gross misconduct”.
But in a Police Appeals Tribunal hearing on Wednesday, an independent panel concluded her dismissal was “unfair” and that it was “unreasonable” to sack Williams after her conviction, adding that she should have received a final warning instead.
‘Grave error of judgement’
Jurors at her trial heard Williams had been sent the video by her sister, Jennifer Hodge, who was “outraged” that it was circulating on social media and sent it to “all 17 people in her WhatsApp contacts list”, The Guardian reported in 2019.
Williams said she was “unaware” her sister, who wanted the culprit found, had sent her the video. However, the judge presiding over the trial rejected the explanation given Hodge’s “extreme reaction” to the video and because the two sisters “had spent hours with each other” without Williams reporting it, the paper adds.
Prosecutors also cited a text from the officer to her sister to “please call” as evidence that she wanted to discuss the content of the video, the BBC says.
Judge Richard Marks said Williams’ decision to do nothing about the video was “a grave error of judgement” given her duty to safeguard the five-year-old child involved, adding: “It is a complete tragedy you find yourself in the position you now do.”
Before her dismissal, Williams was a “rising star” in the Met Police and had been “tipped to become the first black head of Scotland Yard”, the Daily Mail reports.
Her sacking caused “widespread anger” among her colleagues, who pointed to her “unblemished” 36-year career record, The Telegraph says. She was highly decorated for her work, winning the Queen’s Police Medal in 2003 and receiving high praise for her role after the 2017 Grenfell Tower fire.
The Black Police Association (BPA) was highly critical of her conviction, arguing in 2019 that it was a “classic example of institutional racism” and questioning why she was pursued when an “investigation concluded that there has been no sexual gratification” from the images, The Guardian says.
“The clip was sent to 17 people and only three people were convicted,” the Met branch of the BPA said in a statement. “It is well documented about the disproportionally that exists within misconduct and complaint of officers and staff from an African, Caribbean or Asian background.”
The Metropolitan Police denied that ethnicity was a factor in its decision to press for charges, arguing that dealing with the allegations internally would have been “entirely wrong”, The Times reported.
Back to work
After the appeal verdict Williams, 56, said: “I am extremely pleased with today’s outcome and would like to thank the members of the panel for their decision, Gerard Boyle QC for continually fighting my case, and for the countless people within policing and beyond, including representatives of the Police Superintendents’ Association, who have supported me throughout,” Sky News reports.
“For over a year, before and during the pandemic, I have continued to support local people by working within community initiatives. I am therefore delighted to be able to return to the work I love, serving our communities within London.”
Police Superintendents’ Association professional standards coordinator Victor Marshall said: “We are pleased that today’s panel agreed that her dismissal was unreasonable in light of the complex circumstances surrounding her conviction and we are delighted she will be able to continue to serve the communities of London.”
A Met Police spokesperson added that it will “await the full judgment” and “engage Ms Williams’ representatives accordingly”.