Former Lincolnshire PC jailed for misconduct in public office
A former Lincolnshire Police constable has been jailed for misconduct in public office (MIPO) after a court heard that he had sent sexually inappropriate messages to two women he met through his duties. The officer was charged following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
Ex-Police Constable Shaun Wheeler, aged 56, appeared before Nottingham Crown Court today (Tuesday 5 September) having previously admitted two counts of MIPO relating to sexual activity and inappropriate communications. He was sentenced to 20 months in prison for the first count and given a concurrent nine-month term for the second offence.
Our investigation established that a woman who was interviewed by PC Wheeler on suspicion of assault in January 2019 then began receiving flirtatious messages from him.
One of the woman’s friends informed police about the exchanges, which led to the IOPC starting an investigation in February 2019, after a conduct referral from the force. He was alleged to have said to the woman: “I’ve got to be careful of what I say because this is my works phone, don’t tell anyone”. She blocked his messages, but we were told that she was reluctant to report his behaviour in case it jeopardised her case.
We looked at allegations that the officer communicated with a number of women who were in vulnerable situations, with a view to commencing an inappropriate relationship with them; and that he had posted sexual or offensive social media messages which could bring policing into disrepute or were in breach of police professional standards.
Phone analysis showed that he had exchanged more than 3,000 messages with a woman he met after she reported she was being harassed by an abusive ex-partner. They had an intimate relationship which included having sex when PC Wheeler went to her home address while on duty to take a statement.
Further sexual contact took place when the officer went back to take a vulnerability statement from the woman. The relationship continued for several weeks during which the woman disclosed she was having suicidal thoughts. He subsequently sent her explicit videos and pictures of himself.
In a statement presented to the court about the impact of this on her life the woman said: “I used to feel safe seeing a police officer but I never think that now. He used me for his own sexual gain when he should have been in a role protecting people.
“I see various news articles around police officers abusing their position and power, and it makes me sick to think I am one of those victims. I was a victim, I was taken advantage of and now all I am left with are these emotional scars.
“I only hope that this investigation raises awareness to other people in my situation and encourages them to come forward and speak out.”
The Crown Prosecution Service authorised charges against the officer following a referral from the IOPC when the investigation ended in August 2020.
PC Wheeler was suspended from the force following these allegations. While on suspension, he volunteered at a mental health support group which supports vulnerable young adults with learning difficulties, some of whom were victims of sexual assault and substance abuse. A referral was made to the IOPC due to allegations that he was sending a vulnerable female in the group more sexualised messages.
PC Wheeler resigned from Lincolnshire Police in December 2019 after he was interviewed by the IOPC.
The investigation found a case to answer for gross misconduct which was proven at a hearing organised by the force in February 2021. The disciplinary panel ruled that he would have been dismissed if still serving, after finding that he had breached police professional standards for honesty and integrity, and discreditable conduct.
The panel noted that he had sought to conceal his communication with the woman and concluded that his misconduct had been deliberate, targeted and predatory.
He was added to the College of Policing barred list preventing future employment with the police service.
IOPC Regional Director Derrick Campbell said: “This appalling case involved the most serious abuse of power for sexual gain by then PC Wheeler.
“Police policy states that personnel who display sexualised behaviour towards a member of the public who they have come into contact with through work, undermine the profession, breach trust, exploit a power imbalance, act unprofessionally and potentially commit a criminal act.
“A further aggravating feature is that the evidence we gathered showed that this officer clearly knew that what he was doing was wrong and tried to cover up his activities by suggesting to some of the women he contacted, that they should switch to using a more private social media messaging platform. There is no place in policing for such behaviour and Shaun Wheeler has also now paid a high price by losing his liberty.”
As a result of our investigation, we recommended to Lincolnshire Police that they may wish to refresh their policy to improve officers’ awareness of ‘Bad Apple’ reporting of inappropriate behaviour by colleagues. It was also recommended that the force should devise a policy to provide explicit understanding for officers over their use of social media.