By Iain Gould, Solicitor
I recently contributed to an investigation lead by the BBC Radio 5Live team about police abuse of powers for sexual gain.
You can hear the first part of the programme here:
Part 2 will be broadcast on 5Live on Sunday 3 April at 11a.m.
During my career as a solicitor who specialises in Actions Against the Police, I have acted on behalf of several victims of sexual exploitation by police officers.
Police officers have wide powers, status, and influence. Their role is to protect and serve the public. Each case of police abuse represents a serious betrayal of the trust and confidence that individuals, and the wider public, should have in them.
In 2012 the Independent Police Complaints Commission (“IPCC”) reported on this issue. (The Abuse of Police Powers to Perpetrate Sexual Violence). The report explained that “It is not possible to know precisely how many people have been victims of police officers or staff abusing their powers. There is no evidence to suggest it is commonplace, but nor can we be confident that all such cases are reported.”
It gave six examples of police abuse of power for sexual gain and concluded that forces were not doing enough to stop this type of corruption.
The authors urged “senior leaders in the police service to be alert and determined to root out this kind of abuse of power,” and said “Police forces should maximise every opportunity to prevent, or at least reduce, the likelihood of police officers and staff from engaging in the behaviours described within this report.”
But are they?
If the experience of my client “Clare” is anything to go by, I doubt it.
PC Jordan Powell joined West Midlands Police in 2004.
In September 2007, PC Powell was sent to investigate a report of a house burglary. The woman who made the report (not my client Clare) had been having domestic issues with her ex-partner. He was the suspected burglar.
Powell began texting flirtatious messages to the woman and a relationship developed culminating in PC Powell visiting her home whilst on duty and having consensual sexual intercourse.
The ex-partner found out and made a complaint. In 2008, PC Powell received a written warning for misconduct.
Despite this, it would appear that little was done to monitor and supervise his activities to prevent further abuses of power, in particular with Clare.
Continued Police Abuse
Clare was the victim of domestic abuse by her ex-husband. He was arrested on a number of occasions.
In 2010, Clare reported a burglary to the police and accused her ex-husband of stealing some of her jewellery. The case was handled by PC Powell and went to court, where Clare’s ex-husband was successfully prosecuted.
In May 2012, Clare reported further domestic abuse by her ex-husband and obtained a non-molestation order. The order could not be served on him so she attended her local police station for advice. She was again dealt with by PC Powell, alone.
Subsequently PC Powell texted Clare on his private mobile phone.
Some text messages were exchanged and in one Clare thanked PC Powell for his help. PC Powell responded by asking Clare to keep his number and to call or text if she needed help. He ended his text with a ‘X’ which Clare took to mean a kiss. She wasn’t comfortable with this.
Soon afterwards, Clare’s ex-husband breached the non-molestation order. Clare texted PC Powell to report the breach. There were further texts between them and one of the texts again contained an ‘X’ from the police officer.
The following day Clare sent PC Powell another text to report a further breach of the order by her ex-husband. PC Powell texted back saying that he would meet her at home. He ended the text with an ‘X’.
Again, Clare wasn’t comfortable with the ‘X’ in the text message but was not confident enough to challenge it because Powell was a police officer. PC Powell went to Clare’s home with another officer and took a statement.
Clare and Powell exchanged further texts. She admits that she was flattered by the attention.
Over the next few days, the exchanged text messages became more suggestive. It wasn’t long before PC Powell started visiting Clare in the middle of the night while he was on duty to have sex with her.
The relationship between PC Powell and Clare ended in July 2012. Clare felt PC Powell wanted to control the relationship and was visiting just for sex.
PC Powell was caught when his own Force became suspicious and set up a “honey trap” operation using an undercover female officer.
The officer pretended to be a victim of domestic violence and rang police in June 2012. PC Powell was sent to her home, which was fitted with covert recording equipment, to investigate the complaint. Within a couple of hours of leaving, PC Powell had sent the “victim” flirtatious text messages from his personal mobile phone.
As part of the investigation, officers from West Mercia Police’s Professional Standards Department visited Clare who was brave enough to provide a full account as to what had happened.
Shortly afterwards, PC Powell was arrested and prosecuted for misconduct in public office. At trial the court heard how, on the day before his arrest, Powell sent text messages to three women asking for sex. He was jailed for 15 months after pleading guilty to three charges of misconduct in public office.
West Mercia Police dismissed Powell at a special case hearing chaired by the Chief Constable. In a statement issued after the dismissal hearing quoted by the BBC, the Deputy Chief Constable acknowledged that “Incidents of this nature have the potential to seriously damage the trust placed in us by those communities.”
PC Powell clearly abused his position for sexual gain. He targeted vulnerable women. He then groomed them with compliments and flattery. Numerous sexual relationships developed.
What could his own force do to prevent such abuse?
West Mercia Police maintain that they did everything possible; that PC Powell was a “lone wolf”.
Maybe. But in light of the misconduct finding by the Force in 2008, West Mercia Police knew that PC Powell posed a risk, and yet they appear to have done little or nothing to monitor and prevent him from abusing his position.
As I said in the 5Live interview, it beggars belief that PC Powell was not dismissed in 2008 (when he was only given a written warning), and allowed to deal with vulnerable victims of domestic abuse alone.
What of Clare? She says, “It sickens me to think about what PC Powell has done to me and other women. I have, thanks to him, had my self-confidence and esteem shattered, my trust in men and the police robbed. He has in my eyes, behaved more appallingly than my ex-husband, he abused his power as a Police officer; someone you trust and invite into your home and life, at a time when your whole world is falling apart”.
Civil Action Against West Mercia Police
With my help, Clare is now suing West Mercia Police for compensation.
In fairness to the force, the Assistant Chief Constable apologised at an early stage and the Force’s legal department admitted liability early on. Only quantum (the value of Clare’s claim) remains to settle her claim against the police and help her move on with her life.
As a result of PC Powell’s abuse, Clare has suffered psychological damage and has undergone lengthy counselling.
Although full details of her claim were presented in September 2015, West Mercia Police failed to offer suitable compensation and/or actively engage in settlement negotiations.
To progress matters, I had no alternative but to issue court proceedings on Clare’s behalf. This is a serious step, especially for Clare, who has never previously made a claim for compensation and is unfamiliar with the process.
I urge West Mercia Police put forward a reasonable and realistic offer to settle Clare’s claim. By delaying it they are inflicting a second injustice on her and delaying her recovery.
The Chief Constable also needs to conduct a root-and-branch review of Force procedure. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This appalling abuse of police powers demands strong leadership and control.
If you want help with your police abuse claim contact me using the online form below or at www.dpp-law.com