Last week I published a blog regarding Police officers who exploit vulnerable victims of crime for sex, and expressed concerns as to whether a general culture of what we might call ‘institutional misogyny’ exists within the Policing profession which has led to too many abusers finding a home there, and being able to get away with their crimes for far too long.
That this is a very real problem within the Police has been recognised by numerous official communiqués from chief officers over the last decade, such as this from the then Deputy Chief Constable of West Yorkshire Police John Robbins in July 2017 (now Chief Constable) –
“I know this doesn’t apply to the vast majority of you but some of you and some of your colleagues are continuing to abuse your position for sexual purposes.
As employees of West Yorkshire Police you hold a privileged public position. It is vital we all understand and respect this position at all times and maintain professional boundaries with members of the public that we come into contact with as a result of our job.
A national strategy has just been launched by the National Police Chiefs’ Council making it clear what is expected of everyone when dealing with members of the public. A key focus of this is the abuse of position for a sexual purpose and improper emotional relationships. Such an abuse is now clearly defined as corruption and therefore allegations will always be treated and investigated as corruption. This is not just the abuse of position with vulnerable people, it is any relationship with a member of the public that you have cultivated through your position in West Yorkshire Police.
So let me make this really clear – it is your professional obligation and duty to neither abuse or use your position for sexual and emotional relationship purposes.”
Even earlier than this, Dorset Police had, in 2013, published a policy entitled “Maintaining Professional Boundaries and Standards of Behaviour” which stated the following-
· Officers and staff should be aware that in their dealings with victims, witnesses and offenders there is likely to be an imbalance of power (for example due to ongoing or situational vulnerability or through powers of office) and that an attempt to establish a relationship beyond the purely professional may constitute an abuse of that power.
· You must not use your professional position to establish or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any current or former victim, offender or witness, or use your contact with them to pursue a relationship with someone close to them.
· You must protect all people from the risk of harm posed by another colleague’s conduct. The safety of the public must come first at all times. If you have concerns that a colleague may be involved in an inappropriate relationship, you must report this matter to a supervisor or line manager without delay in order that the concerns can be investigated and the necessary protective arrangements are put in place.
But how much real difference has a decade of such guidance and messaging made to the prevalence of such predatory behaviour within our Police Forces? IOPC statistics show that the Police watchdog has received no less than 394 referrals in the last 2 years for abuse of power for sexual gain by Police officers/ staff, 106 of which were deemed serious enough to warrant direct investigation by the IOPC (bearing in mind that the vast majority of misconduct investigations are conducted by the local Forces themselves).
In the same week that Police investigator Alan Butler was sentenced to prison for his exploitation of my clients Julia and Alison, yet another abusive officer, PC Sean Ford (of the same Dorset Force that set out those apparently clear ‘commandments’ about sexual propriety in 2013 that I have cited above) faced a misconduct panel in relation to his relationship with a domestic abuse victim whose case he was investigating.
The panel heard how the relationship began in 2019 when the woman (Ms A) was referred to the Police feeling suicidal and in a state of fear about her ex-husband.
Mere days after visiting Ms A’s house to take a statement from her about the abuse, PC Ford entered into a sexual relationship with her. This was at a time when Ms A was both an alleged victim and suspect in the investigation, as her ex-partner had made counter-allegations of emotional and physical abuse against her.
As is very common in such cases, PC Ford was able to play the part of the “Knight in Shining Armour” to Ms A – flagrantly conducting an illicit relationship with her by night, whilst by day he made entries regarding criminal allegations about her in the Police investigation log. In this regard, PC Ford was putting the integrity of the whole criminal investigation process at risk, as well as exploiting his position for sex.
This was nothing short of contemptible behaviour, but rather than disclose his relationship at the time, or even accept full responsibility once it was discovered, PC Ford contested the charge of gross misconduct brought against him, arguing that he had not abused his position to have a relationship with Ms A.
Quite properly, the misconduct panel rejected PC Ford’s arguments, and on 30 September 2021 dismissed him from the force for having conducted an inappropriate sexual relationship with such a clearly vulnerable woman.
Whilst ex-PC Ford will now be placed on the Policing barred list, questions remain as to Policing culture and the prevalence of this problem, at the intersection of machismo and ingrained misogyny. Bear in mind that PC Ford felt entitled to admit his affair with the woman, and argue that he should be allowed to keep his job. How many other officers really think likewise about this form of misconduct, and therefore is the profession as a whole only paying ‘lip service’ to the full extent of the problem?
In further news this week, Patsy Stevenson, one of the women manhandled and handcuffed by Metropolitan Police officers as they broke up the peaceful Clapham Common vigil in memory of Sarah Everard in March of this year, has spoken of her fear after dozens of Police officers ‘liked’ her profile on the Tinder dating app. The Met have said that they are now investigating whether any officer in so doing has committed misconduct.
An independent review into not merely the Metropolitan Police, but all Police Forces standards and culture on these issues is long, long overdue.