A senior Metropolitan police commander who wrote the force’s drug strategy allegedly smoked cannabis in front of his lodger every day, a gross misconduct hearing has been told.
Commander Julian Bennett later threatened to resign when he was asked to take a drug test on 21 July 2020, a disciplinary panel heard.
At a hearing in south-west London on Friday, Mark Ley-Morgan QC, representing the police, said Bennett’s explanation for refusing to give a sample for the test – that he had taken CBD (cannabidiol) for a medical condition that caused embarrassing facial symptoms – was implausible.
“He tried to resign on the spot, asked someone to go speak to the commissioner and ask if she would let him resign,” said Ley-Morgan. “He then provided an explanation for why he thought his sample from him might be positive. Why would you provide that explanation but then refuse to give a sample? It makes no sense.”
He said the refusal “does make sense if you think your sample will reveal that you are a habitual user of cannabis” or that it would be inconsistent with mere use of CBD oil.
The panel heard that Sheila Gomes, a nurse, who Bennett took in as his lodger for eight to 10 weeks in late 2019, contacted the police seven months later alleging drug use.
John Beggs QC, acting for Bennett, argued on Friday that the case should be thrown out because of disclosure failures by the police and the fact they were now seeking to rely on written – rather than oral – evidence by Gomes, which would deny defense counsel the opportunity to cross-examine the “sole and decisive witness”.
Beggs asked rhetorically: “Are you seriously saying that he got his weed out every day and smoked it in front of you and no one [at his work] smelled it?”
He also said that Gomes was contemplating writing a book about the matter, which might prompt her to add a “bit of spice” to the story.
“If people write books they say things to fuel the book sales,” said Beggs.
The application for written evidence from Gomes to be accepted was made by Ley-Morgan after she failed to appear at this week’s hearing, initially saying she was ill and then that she was “resting”. Beggs said the proper approach by the police would have to be asked for an adjournment to allow her to recover but Ley-Morgan said he had “no confidence” she would be available to give evidence in future.
The barrister for the police also said Gomes had made a “throwaway, silly comment” about writing a book and suggested it was a far-fetched idea. “If her motivation for her is money, she’s gone about it in a funny way,” said Ley-Morgan. “Rather than going straight to the papers she’s reported it to the Metropolitan Police Service.”
Bennett, who has been suspended on full pay for two years, is also accused of taking magic mushrooms and LSD. He was nicknamed “Sacker” for dismissing dozens of officers – including two for drug misuse – while presiding over disciplinary hearings during his 45-year career. He wrote the Met drug strategy for 2017 to 2021.
The panel will give its decision on whether the case should continue and the admissibility of Gomes’s written evidence on 30 September.