Another day, another report of a police officer dismissed for inappropriate contact with a vulnerable victim of crime (see here).
The unnamed PCSO of Warwickshire Police used social media to make contact with a female burglary victim after visiting her house in his professional capacity to offer crime prevention tips. The woman reported the officer’s behaviour and the Force’s Professional Standards Department commenced an investigation. Misconduct proceedings were subsequently brought against the officer, which concluded at a hearing on the 5th of May. There, it was found that the officer’s behaviour amounted to gross misconduct and that had he not quit in advance, he would have been sacked.
Media reports of this case coincided with a settlement that I have just agreed with Thames Valley police for another young woman. The background facts are remarkably similar; a police officer making inappropriate contact with a vulnerable female victim of crime.
In November 2017, my client Gemma Hawkins (name changed) attended her local police station to report details of the emotional and physical abuse which she had suffered at the hands of her ex partner.
PC Green attended upon her. Gemma explained what had happened and PC Green took a brief account. Gemma was with PC Green for about 30 minutes and assumed that the Police would now take action.
Following the meeting, PC Green proceeded to text Gemma, first from his work mobile phone and then from his personal mobile phone. Although the texts initially centred on Gemma‘s crime report, PC Green soon became suggestive and flirty with messages such as “Which is your favourite room at home?“, “It’s freezing. I can’t get warm, any ideas?” and “Only place I’m warm is in bed”. Over the following weeks, the messages became increasingly frequent, often daily, and were sent at all times of day when PC Green was both on and off duty.
Gemma was very disturbed by these messages and found them highly inappropriate, but at the same time she was nervous as PC Green was in a position of authority and she didn’t want to do anything to affect the investigation. In the circumstances, she played along, responding to his texts but rarely instigating any conversation herself (other than complaining about the lack of action against her ex partner). Those issues were conveniently ignored by PC Green who, without Gemma’s knowledge had in fact “filed” her report as a “non-recordable incident” and had taken no further action.
However, he continued to use the now ‘phantom’ investigation of Gemma’s ex- partner as an excuse to continue to make exploitative contact with her by phone/ text message.
After a few months, Gemma became very frustrated that nothing was happening as regards her ex partner and reported her concerns to a more senior officer. She expressed hope that this time her complaint would be taken more seriously and not as an opportunity to “chat me up“.
An investigation commenced. It was clear that PC Green had abused his position as a Police officer in an effort to pursue an improper emotional/sexual relationship with Gemma, something all the more reprehensible given that she had come to him as the victim of an abusive and exploitative boyfriend. PC Green was interviewed, during which he accepted that he was fully aware of Force guidance defining such behaviour as a serious form of corruption which would not be tolerated, and that he had “overstepped boundaries” in his efforts to form a relationship with my client.
Misconduct proceedings were brought against PC Green. At a misconduct hearing in July 2018, he was found to have failed to have treated my client, a vulnerable victim of domestic abuse, with respect and courtesy by sending messages of a personal nature and had failed to respond with advice to concerns of her domestic situation. As is often the case, Green himself had resigned before the hearing, but the Force made it crystal clear that he would have been dismissed for gross misconduct had he still been a serving Officer.
I intimated a claim on Gemma’s behalf against Thames Valley police, who were vicariously liable for their Officer’s actions/ exploitation of his Police role. TVP suggested that a claim was not made out because there was no evidence of ‘damage’, either injury or loss. Their argument was that although the text messages may have suggested or hinted that PC Green wanted to start a relationship with Gemma, they were not “overtly invasive or sexual” and in fact “might seem innocuous to an outsider“. It was very disappointing to be met with this response, which seemed designed to diminish and demean Gemma and everything she had gone through. On the one hand, the Force had taken appropriate disciplinary action against PC Green, but now with the other they were denying Gemma’s claim and almost endorsing Green’s outrageous conduct as ‘no big deal’, displaying an old school ‘well boys will be boys…’ mentality.
In response, I commissioned expert medical evidence which confirmed that PC Green’s contact had caused a material deterioration in Gemma‘s already vulnerable mental state, resulting in an anxiety and depressive disorder.
Following negotiation, Thames Valley police have agreed to pay Gemma £22,500 in compensation plus legal costs. I am sure you will agree that this is far from an “innocuous” amount of damages, and it reflects the true seriousness of this type of Police misconduct and the real harm it can cause.