Greater Manchester Police officer sent inappropriate messages to vulnerable woman

Published: 20 Sep 2023

A Greater Manchester Police officer who abused his position for a sexual purpose has been dismissed without notice following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

An accelerated misconduct hearing, arranged by GMP, yesterday (19 September) found the case against PC Robert Whitehead, who was based in Ashton, was proven at the level of gross misconduct.

Our independent investigation began in November 2022, when we received a referral from the force regarding messages exchanged between PC Whitehead and a vulnerable woman he met in the course of his duties. On 15 November, IOPC investigators, assisted by GMP officers, arrested PC Whitehead on suspicion of misconduct in public office and improper use of police powers.

He was interviewed under criminal caution, and we also reviewed messages on the woman’s phone.

The evidence showed PC Whitehead met the woman after she was reported missing from home and taking part in the police effort to locate her.

A short time later he began exchanging messages, first from his GMP-issued mobile phone and then from his personal device. Analysis showed these messages were sent while he was both on and off-duty.

Many of the messages were signed with an ‘x’ and some were flirtatious in nature. PC Whitehead received inappropriate messages and images which he did not discourage, nor did he report the contact to management.

PC Whitehead made a number of comments about the woman’s appearance. At one point he asked where she was, seemingly for the purpose of arranging to meet her, although there was no evidence they met up in the short time they were in contact.

He also sent a message telling the woman to delete their conversations, saying she would “get in bother” if she didn’t.

On conclusion of our investigation in May 2023, we informed GMP we had identified incontrovertible evidence of PC Whitehead’s conduct that was likely to amount to gross misconduct. The force agreed and made arrangements for an accelerated misconduct hearing, which took place yesterday.

At the hearing, he was found to have breached the police standards of professional behaviour with respect to: honesty and integrity; authority, respect and courtesy; and discreditable conduct. He was dismissed without notice and added to the College of Policing’s Barred List, banning him from working in policing in future.

At the end of our investigation, we referred a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided not to authorise any criminal charges.

IOPC Regional Director Catherine Bates said: “When officers abuse their position for a sexual purpose this is a form of serious corruption, which has absolutely no place in policing.

“PC Whitehead was well aware of the woman’s vulnerability yet rather than helping her, he tried to exploit the situation for his own sexual gratification. His attempts to cover up this appalling behaviour show he was well aware his communication with the woman had gone far beyond acceptable, professional contact.

“Thanks to the prompt referral from GMP, and swift response of IOPC investigators, we were able to stop this contact before it escalated any further. The resulting investigation has ensured PC Whitehead was held accountable for his actions and I welcome today’s outcome.”

  • Greater Manchester Police
  • Corruption and abuse of power