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'No foundation' to allegations of bias in Commander Bennett hearing

Commander Bennett has until February 10 to confirm whether he intends to appeal the decision to reject his application to recuse the entire misconduct panel.

Proceedings against a Met Commander accused of using cannabis, LSD and magic mushrooms while on holiday will continue after an application to remove the panel due to alleged bias was dismissed.

Commander Julian Bennett, who has previously chaired misconduct hearings and wrote a drug testing strategy for the Met, stands accused of taking the substances while in France between February 2019 and July 2020.

However, despite the rejection of the application the case was not able to proceed today because the defence were not ready to proceed and cross examine the witness who attended to give her evidence. 

Proceedings have been postponed multiple times, while Commander Bennett's application to have the case dismissed was rejected by the panel in September 2022.

This decision prompted the allegations of bias, and on Monday, Commander Bennett's lawyer John Beggs KC called for the recusal of the entire panel on this basis.

Six grounds were advanced in support of this claim, including concerns over the Met's approach to disclosure in the case, alongside wider grievances about some of the statements made and language used within the September decision.

The panel - made up of Chairman Akbar Khan, lay member Professor Brian Gomes Da Costa and Roy Wilsher from HMICFRS - rejected the application on all grounds in a decision read out by the Chair.

Mr Khan said: "The panel considers for the reasons that have been explained that the FMIO who is dispassionate, not suspicious, nor over sensitive as a litigant, would likely conclude there was no real possibility that the panel is biased or hast prejudiced any issue.

"Overall, the panel believes that the FMIO knowing the full facts would likely conclude that the officer is unhappy with the [September] ruling, and has no foundation for alleging apparent bias against the panel."

In making the recusal application on Monday, Mr Beggs accused the Met of being “selective” with WhatsApp messages relating to the witness in the case, Ms Shiela Gomes.

This was on the basis that messages from 2019 and 2021 were disclosed, but those from 2020 were omitted completely (which included the period when a report of Commander Bennett's alleged drugs use was first made to the force). 

In reaching their decision, the panel argued that Commander Bennett's application to have the case dismissed heavily referenced issues of disclosure which were already resolved.

Mr Khan said: "Having received the disclosure that the defence sought with the full prospect of him being able to receive a fair hearing in late August 2022, the officer nonetheless decided to file a stay application to dismiss the case against him based primarily on the disclosure issues that had already been settled back at the February hearing."

The panel's overarching view was that Commander Bennett was striving to "impute bias to the panel at every opportunity", and that the FMIO would not reach that conclusion on the basis of the grounds advanced.

After the panel handed down its decision, discussions turned to whether the substantive hearing could begin as the witness was present, ready to give evidence.

While the Appropriate Authority (AA) confirmed that it could open its case, Mr Beggs said that he hadn't "come along with my papers to do any cross-examination".

A series of directions - including an adjournment - were submitted to the panel, who said that they felt like they had "no option" but to go along with those proposed.

Mr Khan said the panel was "disappointed" that the defence wasn't ready to proceed today, speculating that this could be due to an expectation that the proceedings wouldn't continue following the recusal application.

A new hearing date is to be fixed in the coming weeks.

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