A former Devon and Cornwall Police Sergeant has been found 'culpable of gross misconduct' after being found abusing his position as a police officer.
The officer, who has been granted anonymity and thus not identified, was found by an independent panel led by a legally qualified chair, James Rickard, to have committed actions which 'fell below the expected standards of professional behaviour'.
It was alleged that after the conclusion of an investigation in which the sergeant was the investigating officer, he entered into a relationship with the victim of the case being investigated, namely a 'high-risk domestic violence victim'.
A hearing initially opened in January 2023 was later adjourned for reasons of procedure before resuming for two days in June 2023 where the panel concluded that the officer's actions had amounted to gross misconduct, leading to him being sacked.
In the report detailing the conclusions of the case, the panel noted that the 'relationship' began several months after the investigation he had led, beginning after the officer searched for the woman on social media.
It noted: "From November 2020 to March 6, 2021 Miss A had no contact with the Sergeant nor did she expect to. However, on March 6, 2021 the Sergeant searched for or in some way found Miss A on Facebook. Contact was made by the Sergeant with Miss A. She tells us in her statement, that she was pleased to hear from him and that she felt a connection with him and it reveals the trust that she placed in him when he was the OIC (investigating officer). She even comments on the banter that they seemed to share. This is all we can say about the “connection” between them when he was the OIC in the view of the panel it shows that there was a rapport between them. Whether that was mutual at that time we do not know and as we have said there is no evidence of it being inappropriate."
In mitigation, the officer said that the duo were in a friendship, not a relationship with the report adding: "The officer has said consistently that there was no relationship but a friendship. It is clear to the panel that there is overwhelming evidence that a relationship developed between them swiftly. We do not accept that on any understanding of the difference between a friendship and a relationship, this was a relationship. Given the nature of the messages and the photographs shared consensually between them, it was far more intimate than a friendship would have been within the circumstances of this particular power dynamic, that is between a policeman who investigated serious sexual offences of which she was the victim and Miss A. That the only physical exchange was a kiss in a Police car does not mean in the context of the Sergeant it was not a relationship that had a very different impetus than a friendship would have. We do not know why in evidence the officer clings to this false notion. Miss A in her statement was clear about what she thought was happening and this much is clear in the messages between them.
"The sharing of intimate pictures of one another again consensual but is evidence of trust held by both of them for each other that is quite different to a friendship. In the view of the panel, the mistake is the use of the words “friendship” and “relationship”. A far better expression is “association” which in this context could include friendship or relationship. This particular association was clearly an inappropriate one, for the Sergeant to enter in to."
The report concluded that: " In conclusion we as a panel find that the AA have proved their case on the balance of probabilities. We have taken into account that the officer himself at the time was going through a relationship breakup and no doubt felt lonely. We have no evidence to suggest that his actions were cynical, but it was with a view to personal gain namely emotional and sexual encounters with Miss A. An encounter that Miss A was anticipating, and it seems wanted at the time. The difference between them at the time was he was a policeman who had been charged with the investigation of serious sexual and emotional violence who was at the time of the DASH assessment a high-risk vulnerable victim with poor diagnosed mental health. The officer was told she was “not great” regarding her health his reply showed an understanding of what she had been through based on information or insight that he had acquired during the course of the investigation. The officer chose to continue. He knew that a line had been crossed if he was unsure, he could have looked and asked. The panel are satisfied that he knew at the time what he was doing was wrong. We reject the interpretation he places on it. The alternative is also true if he did not, he ought to have known. The information was in his grasp."
The officer will not be allowed to work within policing in the future after his details were submitted to the College of Policing barred list.
Head of Professional Standards Superintendent Jo Arundale said: “The actions of this officer were clearly unacceptable.
"Through his actions, the officer undermined the public’s trust and confidence in the police force and did not fulfil his duties and responsibilities.
“We will always take the appropriate action when standards fall below those expected and continue to learn from any instances.
“If anyone suspects a member of the force is abusing their position then please report your concerns to us.”
Assistant Chief Constable Dave Thorne added: “Devon and Cornwall Police takes any reports of inappropriate conduct extremely seriously.
“All officers and staff are expected to abide by the Code of Ethics and ensure the highest standards of behaviour, both on and off duty.
“We are committed to building trust and confidence which includes an unequivocal focus on allegations of police misconduct.
“Any behaviour of this kind, especially when it involves a person who is vulnerable and has approached police for help and support, will not be tolerated.
“We ensure that reports are investigated fully and quickly and will always take action when standards fall below those expected.”
Reports of concern can be reported to Devon and Cornwall Police by calling 101 or emailing [email protected]. Internally staff can also report their concerns confidentially via Bad Apple or via the CrimeStoppers Integrity Line - Integrity Line Form | Crimestoppers (theiline.co.uk).