Abuse of power for sexual purpose - Kent Police, March 2020
In March 2020, following a conduct referral from Kent Police, we investigated an officer who was assigned as a woman’s sexual offences liaison officer (SOLO) after she reported on 2 March 2020 that she had been raped.
He then formed an inappropriate emotional relationship with her, exchanging more than 2,000 messages with her in 15 days, with many messages sent by the officer while off duty and late at night.
A substantial number of the messages were professional, however some were friendly and familiar in nature, with the officer teasing and joking with the woman, using nicknames, and discussing their private lives. These messages demonstrated he was forming an inappropriate emotional relationship with the woman.
On one occasion, after she had gone through the circumstances of the rape in detail, the officer sent a string of messages and appeared to encourage the victim to relive the rape while speaking to her as if he were the perpetrator.
The pair also met discreetly a number of times at secluded places, as well as in a supermarket car park.
We looked at the nature and content of communications exchanged between the officer and the woman and investigated the officer’s actions and behaviour during the period he was acting as her SOLO, specifically:
• whether their relationship was appropriate
• whether the officer complied with force and national police policy in relation to his interactions with the woman.
The officer was initially arrested and interviewed by Kent Police on 20 March 2020 and then further interviewed by IOPC investigators. He also provided a written account.
The woman was also interviewed by the IOPC and provided her account of events.
As part of our investigation, we examined text and Instagram messages exchanged, alongside the officer’s shift rota, to establish how much of the contact took place while he was off duty.
Witness accounts were also taken from the officer’s supervisor and from another SOLO sergeant, and policies and procedures inspected to establish what was expected of officers working as Kent Police SOLOs.
Our investigation concluded in January 2021 but we waited for associated proceedings to finish before sharing our findings.
We decided that the officer had a case to answer for breaches of the police standards of professional behaviour at the level of gross misconduct and should face a disciplinary hearing.
A police disciplinary panel, led by a legally qualified, independent Chair, heard evidence that we found the officer failed to keep accurate records of his interactions with the woman; failed to act appropriately in his role as SOLO; and failed to alert a line manager to his inappropriate relationship with her.
The officer also failed to safeguard the woman and notify any third parties when she alluded to suicidal thoughts.
He also wrongly accessed police information and disclosed it to the woman without a policing purpose.
In September 2023, the panel determined that the officer had breached the standards of professional behaviour relating to authority, respect and courtesy; duties and responsibilities; confidentiality; and discreditable conduct. The officer was dismissed without notice.
We carefully considered whether there were any learning opportunities arising from the investigation. We make learning recommendations to improve policing and public confidence in the police complaints system, and prevent a recurrence of similar incidents.
In this case, we did not identify any organisational learning.