In a report on corruption within the Police service published in 2012, the then police watchdog, the IPCC, identified the abuse of authority by officers for sexual gain as a key corruption threat that needed urgent attention. The enquiry had been prompted by the case of the Northumbria Police Constable, Stephen Mitchell, who was jailed for life in January 2011 for carrying out sex attacks on vulnerable women, including prostitutes and heroin addicts, whilst he was on duty. Claire Philipson, a director of Wearside Women In Need, who supported some of Mitchell’s victims, said at the time-
“What you have here is the untouched tip of an iceberg in terms of sexually questionable behaviour and attitudes. The police service, in my experience, has an incredibly macho culture and women are seen as sexual objects”.
Ms Phillipson’s assessment was particularly prescient; although it has taken repeated criticism by both the new Police watchdog, the IOPC and Her Majesties Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (see their 2019 report, Shining A Light On Betrayal: Abuse of Position for a Sexual Purpose) it appears that this type of Police corruption is at last being tackled head on and rooted out. You only need to trawl through recent media reports and the IOPC website to identify case after case of an officer disciplined or sacked for inappropriate contact or seeking to establish a relationship with a victim of crime or other vulnerable person.
Many women who have been abused by corrupt Police officers are reluctant to step forward and report their abuser. I have written about this previously. There are many reasons for this, including low self-esteem, shame, denial and fear of the consequences (see my blog post: Why It’s Crucial to Expose Sexual Misconduct by Police Officers). Another factor can be ignorance; a failure by the victim to realise that they have been exploited (Read: Consenting Adults? Police Officers Exploiting Female Victims).
On further reflection, there is yet another reason; why would a woman who has been taken advantage of by a Police officer when at her most vulnerable, then turn to that organisation to report that officer and have any hope or confidence in gaining justice? That in turn creates a difficulty for a Police Force who suspect that an officer is abusing his position, are anxious to take action and yet can’t prove criminality or misconduct without the victim’s cooperation. This was apparently the case for Lancashire Constabulary in November 2016.
Senior officers suspected that PC Ihsan Ali was grooming vulnerable women he had met in his role as an “immediate response officer” in Blackburn and Burnley, for a sexual purpose. Officers in the Anti-corruption unit had approached several women with whom PC Ali had previously had contact because of his role, and yet none were willing to cooperate.
By this stage, PC Ali had been under investigation for five months. Communication data from his mobile phone (between July – December 2016) revealed that he was in contact with a number of potentially vulnerable female victims of domestic violence. This contact was described as “disproportionate” and “extremely concerning”. Senior Police leaders decided, however, that available evidence at that time was not sufficiently compelling to bring criminal and/or disciplinary proceedings. In the circumstances, the Anti-corruption unit set up a “safeguarding strategy” whereby the officer was placed under covert surveillance and his mobile phone, email and computer systems use was monitored on a daily basis.
Notwithstanding these concerns and reservations about PC Ali, he was nonetheless allowed to continue to act as an immediate response officer and it was in this capacity that he met my client, Laura on the 26 March 2017.
In 2014/15, Laura had been in an abusive relationship. She had been obliged to contact Lancashire Constabulary on a number of occasions. Her ex- partner was arrested and in June 2016 given a restraining order.
On the 26 March 2017, Laura was confronted/harassed by her ex- partner’s parents, which was a potential breach of the restraining order. Laura was scared and reported the incident to the Police.
Later that day, PC Ali was deployed to Laura’s parents’ home address. Laura gave a full report of what had happened. She found PC Ali to be professional, attentive and caring. He took a detailed statement and advised that he would take necessary action.
After a few days, Laura began to receive texts from PC Ali providing updates as regards the investigation.
A short time later, she received a text from PC Ali from a different phone mobile phone number (PC Ali’s personal number). He advised that “It would have been frowned upon” if he continued to use his work phone to communicate with Laura and “As long as you don’t grass me, I’ll be alright”.
PC Ali then sent multiple inappropriate texts with the clear intention of developing a sexual relationship with Laura. Ultimately, Laura invited PC Ali to attend her home address on the evening of 7 April 2017, less than 2 weeks after he had first responded to her distress call.
PC Ali arrived late and when he did, he parked some distance from the house. He explained that he knew of Police colleagues who lived in the area and he wanted to keep his affairs private. Laura made PC Ali a drink and they spent time talking. After about 15 minutes, there was a knock at the door. Laura established that Police officers were at her door. They entered and arrested PC Ali for misconduct in public office.
Lancashire Police now had concrete evidence of wrongdoing and it appears that they were now able to persuade three other women who had been groomed by Ali to cooperate and give evidence.
PC Ali was subsequently prosecuted for misconduct in public office. He pleaded not guilty and the case proceeded to trial in January 2018. Laura and three other women who PC Ali had abused were obliged to give evidence. On the 6 February 2018, PC Ali was found guilty and was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment, and subsequently dismissed by Lancashire Constabulary.
Laura realised that PC Ali must have already been under investigation in the days before his arrest; how else could the officers have tracked PC Ali to her home? What she did not know was the scale of that operation and how long it had been going on for.
I intimated a claim on behalf of Laura seeking compensation for misfeasance in public office.
In response, Lancashire Constabulary surprisingly denied liability, arguing that PC Ali had at all material times engaged solely in pursuing his own private interests for which they were not liable. Certain documents were disclosed that made it clear that Laura was effectively hung out as bait in order to allow the Police to catch PC Ali “in the act”. Senior officers in Lancashire Constabulary knew, or at the very least suspected, that PC Ali was taking advantage of vulnerable women whom he had met in his capacity as a police officer, yet permitted him to investigate Laura’s case and come into contact with her.
Lancashire Constabulary had allowed PC Ali to manipulate and pursue a sexual relationship with Laura for the benefit of proving his misconduct rather than seeking to protect Laura from this harm. They were aware of the danger that PC Ali posed, yet continued to allow him the opportunity to continue with that behaviour and/or decided that it was better to allow him to prey on yet another vulnerable woman in order to catch him ‘red handed’ rather than seeking to protect Laura by warning her or preventing PC Ali from following through on his nefarious arrangements.
On Laura’s behalf, I was obliged to issue court proceedings. Lancashire Constabulary initially maintained their denial and the case was soon listed for trial in the High Court. However, I’m pleased to report that on review, Lancashire Constabulary have backed down and agreed to pay my client substantial damages and issue an apology. The case has recently been highlighted in a BBC news report, and Laura welcomes the spotlight which has thereby been shone on this important issue.
I accept that Police Forces across England and Wales are now prioritising allegations of sexual misconduct by police officers and doing much more than ever before to root out such corrupt officers. In doing so however they must not lose sight of the victim, and in particular they must not, as they did in Laura’s case, risk making her additionally a victim of their own misconduct and breach of trust by disregarding her safety and welfare, in their pursuit of the abuser.