Commander Julian Bennett, 64, from the Metropolitan Police, has been accused of smoking weed before work, where he, ironically, wrote the force’s drug’s strategy. The astonishing accusations were brought to a misconduct hearing in central London this week, where he was also accused of taking LSD at a party and magic mushrooms on holiday in France.
Cdr Bennett denies the allegations, but let’s have a look how he got here in the first place. Here is the story of how a man who was once in charge of police misconduct hearings found himself at the centre of one.
After joining the Met in 1976, Cdr Bennett built himself quite the illustrious career, eventually graduating to the position of commander for territorial policing; one rank behind Deputy Assistant Commissioner and three positions away from Commissioner – the top policing job in the country.
He was involved in a number of high-profile operations – the security surrounding the London Olympics in 2012, the efforts to tackle moped-related crime in 2017 and the force’s drugs strategy for 2017 to 2021, which included the on-going policy of criminalising cannabis users.
According to information obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Cdr Bennett himself presided at more than 74 police misconduct hearings involving 90 officers between June 2010 and February 2012. He personally dismissed 56 officers, more than 75 per cent, reportedly earning him the nickname “sacker” from his colleagues. Two of these officers lost their jobs for using drugs.
The trouble started for Cdr Bennett in 2019 when he was living with a lodger, a nurse called Sheila Gomes. She told the tribunal that he would smoke weed all the time in their flat. Mark Ley-Morgan KC is representing the Met at the tribunal this week. “Between 27 November and 10 December, 2019,” he told the hearing, “she [Gomes] sent [her friend] Mario a WhatsApp message in which she referred to Commander Bennett… smoking cannabis at the flat.”
“On 7 December 2019 she used her mobile phone to take photographs of a bag of cannabis, cigarette paper, tobacco and lighters lying on a glass table in the flat living room.” Around Christmas that year, Gomes moved out. In July 2020, she rang the police to grass her former housemate up for his wake and bakes.
From that moment on, rather than leading the investigation against people involved with drugs, as he had done on many occasions before, Cdr Bennett was himself under investigation for gross misconduct. The directorate of professional standards (DPS) used the tip off as cause to authorise a drug test.
That’s when Cdr Bennett’s world swiftly unravelled like a ribbon in the wind. He was informed that he was accused by his former lodger of using LSD and magic mushrooms off duty and regularly smoking cannabis before work – some of the substances that he ensured others would be locked up for using.
The test was a fair opportunity for him to unequivocally prove his innocence, but Cdr Bennett refused to take it and instead asked if he could resign from his position. He was taken off duty.
“It [the weed smoking] would start early in the morning,” Gomes testified this week. “Before breakfast and before he would leave and go to work”. She added that the flat was “like an Amsterdam coffee shop”. That year, while Cdr Bennett was allegedly getting high and hosting parties in his flat, there were 682 people in prison in England and Wales for cannabis offences and the police had busted people with weed and seized the plant over 130,000 times.
During this time, when Cdr Bennett is alleged to have been getting blazed before work, he dismissed misconduct charges against five officers involved in an incident that led to the death of a Black musician – Sean Rigg, aged 40 at the time of his death – in custody at Brixton police station. The officers involved were accused of “a cover up” but Cdr Bennett said that “none of the allegations were proved”.
While being suspended on full pay, Cdr Bennett scrambled to claw back some credibility. He said he didn’t take the drug test because he had self-medicated with CBD (cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid which is legal in the UK) to treat “facial palsy”. At the tribunal, Ley-Morgan branded this claim “nonsensical”, as the test he refused to take would have been able to prove if this was the case or not.
Then came a period where Bennett attempted to get the misconduct case thrown out before it started. He said the Met were demonstrating bias towards him. He argued that they were overly selective about the evidence they chose to extract from the witness’s WhatsApp data. It didn’t work. His application to have proceedings halted was ruled to have “no foundation”.
His tribunal was set to take place this week, from 31st July to 4th August, where he faces three allegations: two related to “honesty and integrity” and one related to “orders and instructions” (refusing to take a drug test and lying about his reasons for doing so). The tribunal heard that the magic mushrooms and LSD allegations were “hearsay”, the witness had only heard them second-hand from someone who used to live with them. But the cannabis claims appear to hold more weight, the witness claims to have witnessed that first-hand and provided photographic evidence.
I’m not one to promote grassing your housemate up, but on this occasion it was an act of public service. If this man oversaw the detention of drug users while being one himself, it’s in the public interest for that to come out. Otherwise it would be hypocrisy ladled on top of more steaming hot hypocrisy.
Look, politicians use drugs, the police use drugs, doctors use drugs, lawyers use drugs, priests use drugs. It’s simply part of the human condition for some people. If there’s ever been any compelling evidence that the war on drugs is a fruitless exercise, just consider the farcical fact that the guy who wrote the Met’s drug strategy is accused of getting high before work.
Drug prohibition is seen as a joke, but it’s not a very funny one. Especially when you consider that Black people are 12 times more likely to be prosecuted for cannabis possession compared to white people, and nine times more likely to be stopped and searched. Meanwhile the police commander rocks up to work stoned? I reckon we should take a zero tolerance approach to the poisonous social experiment that is the war on drugs and dismantle it at the earliest opportunity.