Another week, another story in the headlines about a Police officer abusing his position for sex; PC Darren Thorn was dismissed by Wiltshire Police following a public gross misconduct hearing on 14 December 2021, where the misconduct panel heard how Thorn had formed a sexual relationship with a vulnerable woman whom he had met whilst on duty, and how he had used the Police National Computer system as a tool in his pursuit/ grooming of the woman – accessing sensitive information on the PNC about members of the public and sharing it with her.
Thorn had already admitted criminal offences arising out of the relationship, which took place between 2016–2018, including misconduct in public office and computer misuse, for which he remains to be sentenced by the Crown Court.
Paul Mills, Wiltshire’s Deputy Chief Constable said as follows –
“PC Thorn significantly abused his position as a Police officer by making contact with a vulnerable woman he met on duty and then going on to pursue a sexual relationship with her…His actions were not only illegal, but were a consistent and sustained flagrant breach of the standards the police service and the public rightly expect of those who serve in the office of police constable.”
Misconduct in public office is not an offence that can only be committed by Police Constables, however; many ‘civilian’ Police staff members potentially have access through their jobs to the type of opportunity, influence, information and authority that can be exploited by the unscrupulous/ predatory amongst them for sexual gain. Indeed, I have recently concluded a claim for misfeasance in public office (the civil tort which is the counterpart of that criminal offence) on behalf of a woman who was the victim of one such civilian Police employee.
On 29 June 2018, my client, whom I will call Nicola for the purpose of this blog post, established that her home had been burgled – and, to her distress, strongly suspected the perpetrator to be her ex- partner. Nicola called West Yorkshire Police and later, a uniformed Officer attended. The Officer obtained a statement from my client and inspected the intruder’s entry point (a downstairs kitchen window). Nicola was then advised that a “Scene of Crime Officer” (CSI) would attend so as to take fingerprints/other forensic evidence.
Approximately 1-2 hours later, a uniformed male arrived, who my client now knows to be Daniel Cordwell. He introduced himself as a Crime Scene Investigator.
Nicola invited CSI Cordwell in, showed him to the open kitchen window, and proceeded to make him a cold drink.
CSI Cornwall remained on the premises for approximately 30 minutes but as time went on, Nicola became more and more uncomfortable in his presence. Once CSI Cordwell had completed his examination of the window, he said to Nicola, “I’m trying to work out how someone as gorgeous as you would end up with someone like him” – referring to Nicola’s ex-partner. He then followed up on this totally inappropriate comment with the blatant invitation – “I’d like to see you again under different circumstances”.
By this point, CSI Cordwell was standing directly in front of Nicola, looking into her eyes, and she felt as if CSI Cordwell was going to kiss her.
CSI Cordwell then said, “Are you sure you’re going to be okay?” Nicola, who wanted to disentangle herself from this creepy situation as quickly as possible, told him that she would be fine and that she was not vulnerable, but CSI Cordwell insisted – because this was no doubt what he was hoping to exploit – “You are vulnerable, you’ve been burgled”.
CSI Cordwell then put his hand on Nicola’s shoulder and kissed her on the cheek, twice. Nicola was shocked and didn’t know how to immediately respond.
CSI Cordwell then packed up his equipment but whilst doing so, complimented my client’s 2 year old daughter, bent down and kissed her. He then kissed her 5 year old son. Cordwell then approached Nicola again, put his arm around her and whilst looking into her eyes, played the “white knight” card – “Are you sure you’ll be okay?” Nicola insisted she would be, still in a state of shock and just desperate to get this man out of her house and away from herself and her children.
Soon afterwards, however, Nicola noticed that CSI Cordwell was still sitting in his van outside her house. She now felt so uncomfortable she called her current boyfriend, and then, after 20 minutes or so, left the house with her children.
She had effectively been caused to flee from her house by the very Crime Scene Investigator who was supposed to be there to help protect and secure it.
Nicola subsequently reported what had occurred to West Yorkshire Police, and the Professional Standards Department became involved.
In July 2019, Nicola received the welcome news that CSI Cordwell had been disciplined and dismissed from service, but other disturbing revelations had come to light as part of that process: it was established by the misconduct investigation that back in 2011 CSI Cordwell had used the same ‘tactics’ at the home of another female victim of burglary, and had then commenced a sexual relationship with that woman. Yet further, at the same misconduct hearing in July 2019, it was noted that CSI Cordwell had struck up inappropriate relationships with two other women he had met through his work duties.
The misconduct hearing also noted that CSI Cordwell’s ‘disregard for professional boundaries’ had actually been highlighted and raised by West Yorkshire PSD at an Integrity Discussion back in September 2017 – but they had nevertheless continued to allow him to serve, and to groom – or attempt to groom – vulnerable female victims of crime, for sex.
As noted above, claims against the Police for misfeasance in public office can be brought not only in respect of abuse of power by Police Officers, but also for the acts of civilian staff/ employees, and it was on this basis that I successfully sued West Yorkshire Police for damages of £17,000 on behalf of Nicola, reflecting the serious impact this event had upon her, especially the psychological effect which had caused her to require counselling.
Thankfully, Nicola can now move on and begin to put this incident behind her; but that is something which is not so easy for the Police profession, who clearly continue to have a real problem keeping their house in order in this regard.
Following the dismissal of the predatory PC Thorn, with whose case I began this blog, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire, Philip Wilkinson, evidently troubled by the fact that this was the third such misconduct case involving sexual exploitation that had taken place within the force since his election in August, issued an emphatic warning that “it would be wholly misguided to suggest that these former officers are lone ‘bad apples’… Cases like this chip away at public trust and [Wiltshire Police must] ensure that we do not end up in a place where that public trust cannot be rebuilt.”
I very much echo the PCC’s sentiments on this issue. The inescapable conclusion of incidents like this, is that Police culture is very much not a toxic environment for toxic masculinity; and indeed in too many respects is an environment that attracts those with such tendencies – whether into roles as Police officers or civilian staff – and fosters the growth of their abusive and exploitative behaviours. There is much work still to be done to eradicate it.