By Iain Gould, solicitor
According to a joint report just published by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI), people who have suffered harassment or stalking are often being let down by the Police and Crown Prosecution Service.
The publication of the report is timely in that I have just settled a claim for a young woman who suffered harassment by a Police Officer whom she had turned to for protection.
In or around April 2011, my client who I will call Kate began working as the personal assistant to the owner of an escort agency.
During the course of her work at the agency, Kate became aware that some of those working for the agency were underage. Further, Kate became aware that the owner of the agency was committing sexual offences against a number of women and girls who worked for him, behaving in a threatening manner towards them and otherwise exploiting them. Kate also discovered that the owner of the agency was involved in forging documents for some of the women and girls who worked for him.
On 6 January 2012, Kate bravely reported matters to Merseyside Police notwithstanding that she was scared of the owner of the agency and of the potential consequences i.e. the retribution he might take against her.
The information that Kate provided to the police led to an investigation into the owner of the agency. DS David Stubbs of the Merseyside Police Public Protection Unit (“PPU”) was allocated to the investigation.
Thereafter, DS Stubbs visited Kate at home. During the course of this visit, Kate tried to provide DS Stubbs with relevant information but DS Stubbs asked Kate a number of personal questions instead. Kate felt that DS Stubbs was behaving unprofessionally towards her and did not feel as though she was being taken seriously. Kate’s laptop and personal mobile telephone were seized from her, along with a laptop and two mobile telephones that belonged to the owner of the agency. Kate later gave a video recorded interview in relation to the criminal activities of the owner of the agency.
Thereafter, DS Stubbs visited Kate on a number of occasions, made a number of telephone calls to her and sent her numerous text messages from both his work mobile and his personal telephone. In total, DS Stubbs sent 264 texts to Kate including between 14 February 2012 and 29 February 2012, 73 texts without reply. This included, (for example) between 23:23 on 15 February 2012 and 00:37 on 16 February 2012, 15 texts sent by the Officer without reply and at a time when he was actually on annual leave. The manner in which DS Stubbs would communicate with and treat Kate was personal and/or sexual in content and nature.
For example, in or around February 2012, DS Stubbs sent Kate text messages in which he said that he was divorced and had children. DS Stubbs also said that he would like to take his dog for a walk with Kate.
Subsequently, DS Stubbs sent Kate a text message in which he said that he would like to take her to Cornwall and see her in a bikini. DS Stubbs said that he realised that he “should not be doing this” but that he could not help himself.
In or around March 2012, DS Stubbs sent Kate a message at or around 01:00 with words to the effect of:
“I shouldn’t be saying this to you but you’re gorgeous, you’re a beautiful person inside and out and should be proud of what you have done.”
On another occasion, DS Stubbs sent Kate a text message, saying words to the effect of:
“…hope someone is spoiling you rotten like I would be.”
Increasingly disturbed by DS Stubb’s conduct, Kate told DC X, another female officer involved in the investigation into the escort agency, that she would prefer not to have any further contact with Stubbs. Thereafter, the contact from DS Stubbs decreased. However, Kate would still receive the occasional text message from DS Stubbs, such as:
“Hello trouble, how’s you 😉”
The last time DS Stubbs contacted Kate was on or around 20 August 2012.
Due to DS Stubbs’ conduct, throughout the course of the investigation into and prosecution of the owner of the agency, Kate felt as though the police were using her and testing her. In or around January 2013, after having attended court one day, Kate had a conversation with DC X, whilst being given a lift home. Kate informed DC X of DS Stubbs’ conduct towards her. DC X urged Kate to pursue a complaint about DS Stubbs and advised her that someone would be in touch with her. DC X informed Kate that there had been other complaints about DS Stubbs’ conduct.
Kate did subsequently report matters and attended a video interview where she gave a detailed account of DS Stubbs’ conduct towards her. Around the same time, the owner of the agency was convicted of a number of offences. Kate’s initial report to the police had been central to those convictions being obtained.
Following Kate’s video interview, she received no follow-up or information from the police as to what was being done in respect of the information she had provided on DS Stubbs’ conduct. Consequently, Kate once again began to feel used by the police. After repeated enquiries, Kate was eventually informed that the Crown Prosecution Service (“CPS”) had decided that there was insufficient evidence to pursue a criminal case against DS Stubbs but that there would be an internal investigation into DS Stubbs’ conduct instead and that he had been suspended from his duties.
That internal investigation ultimately culminated in a full disciplinary hearing in September 2015. Despite DS Stubbs having used his work mobile telephone to send text messages to Kate, the content of the personal and/or sexual text messages could not be retrieved and so were not available to the disciplinary panel.
The Disciplinary panel found that even though the specific content of the texts could not be proven, they were satisfied that the volume and timing of the messages was way above what could reasonably be expected from an Officer discharging his professional duty. DS Stubbs could offer no reasonable explanation for this, claiming they were for work purposes but offering no record, rationale or evidence as to what this Police purpose was.
Ultimately, DS Stubbs was dismissed for gross misconduct.
Whilst Kate was pleased with the outcome of the disciplinary proceedings, and comforted by the thought that DS Stubbs would not be able to exploit or harass other vulnerable young women, she was dismayed and deeply disappointed at the extent to which she had been ‘shut out’ of the investigation process, being kept entirely in the dark for long periods of time as to what was going on. For example, between March 2013 – May 2014, for over a year, Kate received no contact from Merseyside Police and when she did finally manage to get through to someone, she was coldly and uncaringly informed that for the purpose of the investigation into DS Stubbs she had been classified as a ‘witness’ not a ‘victim’ and hence had no right to expect to be kept updated, and no business contacting the force.
The Police also used a bureaucratic excuse not to formally record Kate’s initial report about DS Stubbs as a public complaint, further allowing them to keep her shut out of the process and thereby denying her entitlement to receive a formal written response/ apology for what had occurred.
DS Stubbs’ dismissal was reported upon by local and national press.
As part of a BBC 5 Live investigation, Kate was interviewed as to her experiences. Here is her account:
During the disciplinary process Kate contacted me for advice in relation to her situation.
DS Stubbs’ behaviour in my opinion clearly constituted harassment contrary to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Section 1 of this statutory tort provides that:
1. A person must not pursue a course of conduct –
a. Which amounts to harassment of another; and
b. Which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other.
- For the purposes of this section, the person whose course of conduct is in question ought to know that it amounts to harassment of another if a reasonable person in possession of the same information, would think the course of conduct amounted to harassment of the other.
‘Harassment’ is not precisely defined in the Act, although it states that references to harassing a person ‘include alarming the person or causing the person distress’.
As well as showing that the behaviour complained of amounts to harassment, a Claimant must show that the Defendant knew or ought to have know that it amounted to harassment. The test of whether the harasser should have perceived his or her conduct in that way is an objective, rather than a subjective one. So, the Claimant need not show that the harasser appreciated the nature of his or her behaviour, but rather that any other reasonable person would have done so.
The Claimant also has to show that there was a ‘course of conduct’. This must involve conduct on at least two occasions.
A civil claim for damages may be brought in relation to conduct that amounts to harassment as defined by the Act. Damages may be awarded for, among other things, anxiety caused by harassment and for any financial losses resulting from it.
By reason of DS Stubbs’ conduct, Kate suffered anxiety, humiliation and distress; specifically DS Stubbs’ conduct towards Kate caused her to feel helpless, frightened, confused, suspicious and paranoid. At times Kate felt that DS Stubbs was questioning her credibility as a witness. DS Stubbs’ suggestive personal comments to her caused Kate to feel dirty, used, humiliated and embarrassed.
As a result Kate lost confidence and began to hate herself. She developed symptoms of severe anxiety and began to have panic attacks. Kate stopped socialising and disliked being in the company of others. She felt nervous and vulnerable, without any guidance or victim support.
Kate even had thoughts of self-harm and began to have involuntary movements at night, which resulted in her causing injury to herself. She suffered sleep disturbance, including waking during the night and vivid dreams and nightmares of acts of deliberate self-harm.
Kate lost trust in others, especially the Police. Contact with male Police Officers would cause Kate to experience severe anxiety, which could develop into panic attacks, and she became reluctant to speak to the Police.
Following DS Stubbs’ dismissal for gross misconduct, Kate began to fear that he would take revenge, which caused her to feel even more anxious and distressed, particularly when alone at night.
In light of DS Stubbs’ conduct, I was satisfied that Kate had a viable claim. I intimated a claim on her behalf against Merseyside Police and issued protective Court proceedings.
Following investigation, Merseyside Police denied liability (as a matter of course?) and yet indicated that this was a claim that they wanted to (quite rightly) settle. Police Forces are very often reluctant to admit liability, even when in reality they know that they are liable for the wrongdoing of their officers.
In November 2015, as part of her legal case for compensation against the Police I referred Kate to a Psychiatrist, who recommended that Kate undergo a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, after which her condition could be further reviewed. Kate went on to have 18 sessions of CBT.
Following further review, it was concluded that Kate had suffered an Anxiety Disorder, which was caused at least, in part, by DS Stubbs’ conduct, which we might rightly call the selfish and callous exploitation of an already vulnerable woman.
At this point, I was able to assess the value of Kate’s claim and Merseyside Police agreed to a Joint Settlement Meeting. After protracted negotiations, Merseyside Police agreed to pay Kate £25,000 compensation plus costs.
The HMIC report, therefore, is welcomed in that it highlights serious cases of Police neglecting the victims of harassment and stalking (whether in person, or increasingly in the ‘digital’ age, on-line) and a culture of, frankly, not treating harassment as a ‘proper’, indeed very threatening and sinister, crime.
What I would also call upon the Police to recognise and tackle as an equal priority is the danger posed to clients such as Kate (and sadly I know from personal experience that her case is far from rare) who are being exploited and harassed by Police Officers themselves, who are abusing the special trust that has been placed in them and seeking, frankly, to take sexual advantage of vulnerable victims of crime. This in itself was highlighted in yet another report published in December 2016 by HMIC reported that abuse of authority for sexual gain was the “most serious” form of corruption facing Police in England and Wales.
One additional factor of concern, highlighted by this case, is the lack of support Kate received from Merseyside Police after making her complaint about DS Stubbs. Whilst her evidence was crucial in helping the force to weed out and remove a rogue, indeed predatory, officer, the Force seemed to have no concern for Kate herself during the long drawn out process. Kate was apparently no longer needed once the Force had her evidence, and the disdain with which they then treated her, apparently failing to recognise her absolutely legitimate interest in the investigation (in which she was the victim and had initiated the complaint) and simply to show her some support and compassion rather than simply ignoring her, added greatly to her emotional anxiety and depression during this very stressful time in her life.
The Force eventually did the right thing in regards to DS Stubbs, but failed to do the right thing by Kate – even to the extent of treating her as an inconvenience or even enemy when she tried to get information about what had happened to her complaint.
Sadly, Kate is not the first victim of crime subsequently subjected to exploitative behaviour by a male Police Officer, and nor do I believe will she be the last; but we can at least hope that in light of the recent reports, Police Forces as institutions will move more swiftly to identify and remove such officers and to treat their victims with proper respect and support.