Police officer used bolt cutters to remove three trainees’ earrings, disciplinary hears

Dorset Police HQ
Dorset Police HQ

A police instructor made three female trainees place their heads on a table and allegedly used bolt cutters to remove their earrings, a disciplinary hearing has heard.

Pc Martin Briggs’ “astonishing” treatment of the women ahead of a fitness test left one bleeding from her ears.

The officer was overseeing a “bleep test” – a drill which involves running back and forth against the clock – when he insisted that all jewellery be removed by the 63 recruits.

Three officers – Pc Georgia Hedditch, Pc Elizabeth Christie and Pc Holly Law – told him they were physically unable to remove their stud earrings.

When Pc Hedditch jokingly suggested to him that “you’ll have to cut them out”, Pc Briggs left the sports hall at Dorset Police HQ and returned with a pair of bolt croppers.

He then had them file one by one into an office next to the hall and told them to put their heads down on a jacket on a desk, it was heard. Pc Briggs then lent over them and “forcibly cut” out their earrings.

After finishing with one officer he held up the bolt croppers, opened and closed them and asked “who’s next?”, it was heard.

‘Highly regrettable error of judgement’

The women were left “distressed and embarrassed” after their ordeal on April 17 last year, it is alleged.

The junior officers all said they complied because they thought if they didn’t do the test they would fail the course and damage their career prospects.

Pc Briggs is now facing a police disciplinary hearing amid claims that his actions breached police standards of behaviour that amounted to gross misconduct.

He admits to making a “highly regrettable error of judgement” but denies behaving “discreditably”, stating he removed the jewellery with the students’ consent.

Mark Ley-Morgan, a barrister representing Dorset Police, said: “Sixty-three students attended to complete a job-related fitness test.

“They were not told beforehand that they must remove their jewellery to do the fitness test. Pc Briggs’ behaviour was described by different witnesses as angry, abrupt, rude and impatient. He was swearing a lot.”

The hearing was told the officer was “incredibly aggressive” to the students who he accused of “f-----g with my OCD” by incorrectly filling in a form before the test.

Mr Ley-Morgan said: “He insisted all jewellery must be removed before anyone did the test. He came back with bolt cutters and what looked like secateurs.

“Three very junior officers came into an office, putting their head on a table, having their earrings forcibly cut out. Surely steps should have been taken to rearrange their fitness tests to the next morning, to give them time to have their earrings removed. It is a serious incident which should never have happened and it is astonishing that it did.”

He added that it was not possible to tell which of the two implements Pc Briggs used as the women had their heads down on the desk.

But he said he accepted “in all probability” bolt cutters were not used as it would have been too difficult to remove the earring.

‘I heard the earring ping somewhere and walked out’

The hearing heard that although Pc Briggs produced a pair of bolt cutters he may have used smaller “tin snips” to do the removals. But the junior officers believe bolt cutters were used on them.

Giving evidence, Pc Hedditch said she had only been an officer for three weeks on the day of the fitness test. She managed to remove most of her jewellery but had an earring which she could not get out. She told the hearing that Pc Briggs had been “losing his temper” with the students and seemed “exasperated”.

She then told him: “If you want to get the earring out, you’ll have to cut it out.”

Pc Hedditch told the hearing: “I didn’t think that it would actually be actioned. I had only been there for three weeks so I didn’t want to challenge the assertion.

“He came back with a not particularly reputable looking pair of bolt cutters. I had envisioned something like tin snips and more proportionate. I was called into his office and put my head on the desk [for the removal] because I didn’t want to move too much.

“I heard the earring ping somewhere and walked out. In hindsight, it should never have happened.”

‘I remember thinking ‘s--t they’re big’’

Representing Pc Briggs, barrister Genevieve Woods said that Pc Hedditch gave him permission to remove the earring. She said that Pc Hedditch had told him “it was about time the earring came out”.

Pc Christie told the hearing that she feared she would lose her job if she did not let Pc Briggs take her earrings out.

She said: “He said if you can’t take your fitness test, then you can’t do your personal safety training, and you are out.

“When I said I can’t get them out, he said he had some cutters at the back. When it was my turn to go in Martin Briggs was in the room he was holding these really long bolt cutters in his hands and was opening and closing them. He said ‘who’s next’.

“I remember starring at them and thinking ‘s--t they are big’. There was a black jacket folded up on the table and he told me to put my head on it.

“It was overwhelming. I was shaking with adrenaline and trying not to cry.”

In response, Ms Woods said that Pc Christie was aware that police had a two earrings policy and that officers were told they could “expect to be challenged” about their standards of dress.

Representing Pc Davies, barrister Guy Ladenburg passed on his client’s apologies to all three officers for the “distress and anxiety” caused by his failure to challenge Pc Briggs.

The hearing continues.