Police '˜ignored Doncaster airport terror warning'

Flaws in anti-terror plans were exposing the public to risk at Doncaster's Robin Hood Airport, a whistleblower claims.

By The Newsroom
Thursday, 14th July 2016, 7:38 am
Updated Thursday, 14th July 2016, 11:28 am
Robin Hood Airport
Robin Hood Airport

Inspector Rachel Usher was in charge of policing at Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster, which has special ‘divert status’ during major events like the 2012 Olympics, where hijacked planes can be diverted.

She raised ‘honest concerns’ the plans for dealing with emergencies were not fit for purpose and the lives of officers and members of the public were being endangered by outdated equipment.

But a tribunal held behind closed doors in December heard her boss, Chief Superintendent Rachel Barber - recently promoted to Assistant Chief Constable - ignored warnings and did nothing, even when Inspector Usher claimed the force was breaking national security law.

The officer went on to make five protected disclosures - allegations she felt were in the public interest - but found herself ‘airbrushed’ out of her senior role in a humiliating group email.

After 18 years’ service she took the force to an Employment Tribunal, accusing them of ‘detrimental treatment’ as a result of her whistleblowing.

The panel said she had “continually been telling her superiors that SYP were in breach of their legal obligations and were likely to be endangering safety”.

They concluded she had her duties unfairly slashed and staff were told to report to other officers as she was “airbrushed” out of her role as airport commander.

The tribunal ruled in favour of Mrs Usher, aged 40. She is now waiting to see how much compensation she will receive from the force.

The case began when Insp Usher reviewed procedures for dealing with emergencies in place at Robin Hood Airport.

She highlighted that outdated armoured vehicles needed addressing and said the force was in breach of requirements set out for emergency planning in the Civil Contingencies Act 2004.

She wrote: “Using them could induce a false sense of security and potentially present a risk to life,” putting them “in clear breach of health and safety guidelines”.

She also requested extra funding for a seven-man team to police the international airport around the clock in a report she said “barely scratched the surface of the complexities and issues”.

Feeling nothing had been done, she then made her five protected disclosures - backed by her superior Chief Inspector Mark James - in a series of emails and meetings between November 2013 and February 2014. But the tribunal said that ACC Barber and Insp Usher’s line manager, Chief Inspector Caroline Rollitt, 46, regarded her as an “irritant”.

Tensions reached breaking point when Usher then sent an email to the South Yorkshire Police and Crime Commissioner - who holds police to account - without telling them.

She complained that “it was clear that there were no significant sums of money available” to make the changes she thought necessary.

ACC Barber reacted angrily and later told the tribunal she was concerned as Usher was “clearly stepping outside of the management structure” in the force.

Inspector Usher said it was “shocking” that she was removed from her role because she raised honest concerns.

She has left policing and now works as an interior designer in Bawtry. She said: “This case has caused me a great deal of turmoil.”

South Yorkshire Police said: “The legal proceedings are still ongoing therefore it would not be appropriate to comment further at this time.

“Inspector Usher is currently on a career break.”

A spokesperson for the airport, said: “We are regularly audited by the Department of Transport and are fully compliant with all DFT and Civil Aviation Authority requirements. Safety is our priority.”