This is a guest post by my colleague and fellow solicitor, John Hagan.
I was dismayed to read this week that a former Detective Constable from Lancashire Police, Stuart Lunt, managed to escape jail despite having being convicted of misconduct in public office for offences against vulnerable women whom he had met and exploited, through his Police role.
Liverpool Crown Court heard how Lunt formed, or attempted to form, sexual relationships with several women he met in the course of his Police duties (either as victims of crime or witnesses), exploiting both their trust and the honour and responsibilities of his profession.
Lunt received a sentence of 18 months imprisonment, which was suspended for 2 years only after the Judge David Aubrey QC heard that during the current pandemic Lunt was required to be at home to care for his children, as his wife was the deputy manager of a pre-school nursery and hence designated a “key worker.”
Judge Aubrey was clearly minded only to suspend the sentence because of the exceptional circumstances created by the Coronavirus, condemning Lunt in the following terms –
“You gained the trust of vulnerable women and utilized that trust for your own sexual advantages and desires. You crossed the boundaries of your duties as a police officer and did so knowingly. All of the women were vulnerable to exploitation and that is precisely what you did. I am satisfied your conduct was akin to grooming.”
In short; whilst the rest of us are subject to ‘lockdown’ it has proved a useful means for this particular corrupt officer to escape lock-up…
Reflecting on this judgment, I am obviously pleased that more and more officers are being brought to account for this type of crime in the criminal courts. However, the approach which the Police then take to the legitimate claims subsequently brought by the Officer’s victims in the County Court all too often continues to be unnecessarily obstructive and combative, in my experience.
I recently had to fight a contested application in a case where Cheshire Police were seeking to withhold disclosure of key documents in a case where my client was, tragically, the victim of a predatory Police officer who groomed and raped her when she was only 13 years old. The Police were, in effect, seeking to withhold from my client and her family, documents which I believe will reveal significant culpability on their part in failing to properly ‘vet’ the Officer, and then in further failing to supervise him so as to prevent the terrible crime he committed against my client.
Quite rightly, the Court has ordered that Cheshire Constabulary provide full disclosure of the documents within the next 6 weeks – notwithstanding an attempt by their lawyers to substantially delay their compliance with the order by reference to – you guessed it – the ‘exceptional circumstances’ created by the Coronavirus outbreak…
Let us all hope that across both the criminal and civil court systems, justice continues to be done, notwithstanding the challenges presented by Covid- 19; I will certainly be continuing to play my part to ensure that it does.