Many different types of people are drawn to join the Police service; some are heroes; some are dedicated civil servants, or community-spirited individuals; others, frankly, are bullies, but worst of all are those sexual predators who seek to exploit the uniform and authority of a Police officer, in order to gain access to their victims, or to conceal their crimes. Tragically, we now know that Wayne Couzens, the Police Officer who murdered Sarah Everard, had three times since 2015 been suspected of sexual crimes and the IOPC is currently investigating whether the Metropolitan Police failed to properly investigate allegations of indecent exposure which were made against Couzens only days before Sarah Everard was abducted by him.
As public awareness of the culture of toxic masculinity (which has lingered in the Police Force far longer than it has in other professions) has grown, many more victims of Police sexual abuse have come forwards, and, thankfully, more and more predators in uniform are being rooted out and brought to justice. One such brave victim was my client Sally (name changed), who suffered at the hands of an officer from the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary.
In 2008, Sally (then 22 years old) was assaulted by her then partner. Sally called the emergency services and four Police Officers, including PCSO Peter Bunyan and 2 paramedics attended.
By the time the Officers had attended, Sally’s partner had fled. Sally had obvious injuries and required treatment by the paramedics. The Officers decided that Sally’s partner should be traced and arrested. Although it was suggested that PCSO Bunyan be one of the Officers to assist with the arrest, he instead insisted that he stay with Sally, in order to take her statement. What he in fact intended to do, was to take advantage of Sally’s vulnerability and his apparent role as a ‘white knight’ saviour in order to groom her for sexual exploitation.
The other three Officers having left, PCSO Bunyan then spoke to Sally at length and took a detailed witness statement. During this process, PCSO Bunyan appeared to be very caring and attentive as well as complimentary to Sally.
PCSO Bunyan eventually left, but not before giving Sally his mobile phone number. Thereafter, PCSO Bunyan began to text Sally repeatedly and call around to see her on the pretext of carrying out “welfare checks”. A relationship developed.
Sally was naïve, young and vulnerable. PCSO Bunyan was approximately 35 years old. For a time, Sally became besotted with him. PCSO Bunyan would call round to see Sally three or four times a week and when he did so, Sally and PCSO Bunyan would have sex.
On every occasion PCSO Bunyan attended, he was in full uniform and to the best of Sally’s knowledge, on duty. On occasion, PCSO Bunyan’s Police radio would go off and he would either turn it down and ignore it, or respond and say that he was busy.
The timing of PCSO Bunyan’s visits was always controlled by PCSO Bunyan.
Further, Sally increasingly found sexual intercourse abusive, in that PCSO would manoeuvre her into positions where she could not move or where her hands were held behind her back.
During the course of the relationship, PCSO Bunyan also made it clear to Sally that he had accessed her data on the Police National Database.
Furthermore, during the course of the relationship, PCSO Bunyan made it clear that he was in a position of power and would ask Sally, “Who is going to protect you from me?”.
All of this behaviour can easily be recognised from a distance to have been the disturbing hallmarks of an abuser, but Sally at the time was emotionally vulnerable and confused; ‘easy prey’ for a domineering man like PSCO Bunyan, who so heinously and shamelessly was exploiting his Police authority.
Then, on or about 5 November 2009, PCSO Bunyan invited Sally to a Neighbourhood Policing Unit, where Sally states that PCSO Bunyan raped her.
In the weeks and months subsequent to this incident, Sally tried to call and message PCSO Bunyan but he failed to respond. With a view to eliciting a response, Sally messaged to say that the relationship was over.
In mid 2010, PCSO Bunyan then attended Sally’s home address out of the blue.
He advised that there was a dangerous man in the neighbourhood and that Sally should keep an eye on her young children. PCSO Bunyan went on to say that he had lost his phone and that his Facebook page had been hacked.
Further, that if anyone came round ‘asking questions’, Sally was to deny that she had had a relationship with him and to assert that he had attended at her home on a few occasions only for a ‘welfare check.’
Several weeks later, Police Officers from the Anti-Corruption Unit did indeed come to visit Sally. She was advised that PCSO Bunyan was under investigation for Misconduct in Public Office. It appears that during his time with the Force, since 2003, Bunyan had exploited a number of vulnerable women for sex, and tragically Sally was far from being his only victim.
Sally gave a video interview and subsequently, and very bravely, gave evidence at PCSO Bunyan’s criminal trial in March 2013. Bunyan had quite properly been charged with the criminal offence of Misfeasance in Public Office, although sadly the prosecutors chose not to additionally charge him with the rape of Sally.
Following trial, PCSO Bunyan was found guilty of Misconduct in Public Office and sentenced to 7 years in prison.
Sally was already a vulnerable individual when she first met PCSO Bunyan. PCSO Bunyan blatantly exploited her for his own sexual pleasure. His actions left Sally psychologically traumatised to such an extent that it was only in 2019 that Sally felt mentally strong enough to take action, and approached me for advice as to her legal rights.
I was immediately aware, that Devon and Cornwall technically had a defence to Sally’s claim under the Limitation Act 1980, which provides that an action for personal injury (whether physical or psychiatric harm) should be brought within three years of the events giving rise to it.
In fact, some 10 years had elapsed since PCSO Bunyan’s abuse and rape of Sally.
However, this did not mean that Sally’s claim was “time barred”. Section 33 of the Limitation Act 1980 allows personal injury claims to be brought after the three year deadline, provided that there was a good reason for the delay in bringing the claim, which of course in Sally’s case there was.
The very acts which PCSO Bunyan had committed against Sally were themselves causes of her delay in coming forwards; his emotional and physical abuse of her had left Sally with high levels of anxiety and depression, including feelings of low self-esteem and unworthiness, which reduced her motivation to seek proper redress for the wrongs committed against her. Sally also suffered from panic attacks and fears that PCSO Bunyan might seek revenge against her.
Finally, her trust of people in authority and particularly the Police themselves had been badly damaged, not only by the actions of Bunyan himself but the subsequent conduct of Devon & Cornwall generally. In the lead up to the criminal case in 2013 Sally had been promised by the Police that she would receive victim support counselling but this failed to materialise and she felt that once the court case was concluded, she was “dropped” by the Police who were no longer interested in her plight.
Then, in 2019 Sally had been contacted by a TV production company who invited her to participate in a documentary about her experiences. Several other women who were victims of PCSO Bunyan were also participants in the documentary, and to her shock, Sally discovered during this process that PCSO Bunyan’s Police colleagues had been aware of his proclivities, but had not reported him. This had made her angry and fuelled her desire to seek proper redress for what had been done to her, by PCSO Bunyan as an individual and the Police as an institution.
Furthermore, from a legal point of view, I was able to demonstrate that no ‘prejudice’ was caused to the Police by the late presentation of Sally’s claim, as they already had full details of PCSO Bunyan’s misconduct, gathered during their internal investigation and the subsequent prosecution; this was not a claim which came ‘out of the blue’ or in regards to which the Police lacked crucial evidence/ documents because of the passage of time.
Armed with these arguments, I was able to convince the Police to pay damages for their former officer’s abuse of Sally, notwithstanding the claim being brought some seven years after the expiry of the limitation period.
Sally ultimately received damages of £45,000 plus an apology from the Force in the following fulsome terms by the Deputy Chief Constable-
“I was sorry to learn of the physical and emotional pain which you suffered at the hands of PCSO Bunyan which should not have occurred. The actions of ex-PCSO Bunyan were unacceptable and it is with genuine regret that he was able to obtain and misuse such a such a trusted role in the community…since this case Devon and Cornwall Police has ensured that every officer and staff member has been comprehensively vetted to both the 2012 national police vetting standard and the new vetting code of practice…We have developed methods through which officers and staff can report potential wrongdoing and concerns as well as the support we provide to them. We have issued guidance to supervisors on the potential signs to look out for and we regularly repeat internal communications to reinforce our expectations”.
I think it is highly important that other victims of sexually abusive/ exploitative Police officers are made aware of cases like Sally’s and understand that it is never too late to seek legal advice and assistance in relation to the harm which has been caused to them, which may be life-long. The clock cannot be set back, but justice can be done, even if it is ten years late.
As the strong words of the Deputy Chief Constable’s apology prove – women like Sally who bring such claims are playing a very significant role in dragging the old, misogynistic culture which long prevailed amongst Police Officers out into the light of the 21st century day, and helping to banish the demons of toxic masculinity from amongst its ranks; though that battle is far from won.