Officer abused his position to pursue sexual or intimate relationships with women he met while policing – Thames Valley Police, November 2019
In 2019, we began an independent investigation into the conduct of a police officer who pursued a sexual relationship and took advantage of a woman after she was complained about by a neighbour. This conduct matter was referred to us by Thames Valley Police (TVP).
The officer’s actions came to light on 8 November 2019, when TVP received a call from a member of the public, who reported a domestic incident involving her friend.
During the call, she stated that a male police officer had attended previous incidents on 3 and 5 November involving the friend. She stated that following his attendance, the officer had sent messages and intimate pictures of himself to her friend.
Checks of TVP computer systems showed that following the incident on 5 November, the matter was closed yet the officer accessed TVP case management and intelligence records to access information about the woman accused of offences and three individuals related to her.
On 20 November 2019, the officer was arrested by TVP counter corruption unit (CCU) on suspicion of Misconduct in Public Office, Computer Misuse and Data Protection offences and suspended. He was interviewed under the criminal caution and he provided TVP officers with three mobile devices. One of these devices was his TVP work phone and the other two were personal phones. The data on the mobile phones was analysed and the telephone numbers were cross referenced with police computer systems.
We received the referral from TVP on 22 November 2019.
Enquiries by TVP and subsequently the IOPC, identified a total of 13 women across a five-year period, whom the officer encountered while in uniform, as part of his policing role and responsibilities. These women confirmed that they had some form of relationship with him, ranging from flirtatious text messages to sexual relationships or inappropriate advances from him.
Initially, nine of the identified women were given witness status and provided statements.
In 2020, following further contact from us, six of the women confirmed that they wanted to pursue a complaint against the officer. The nature of our investigation changed from a conduct matter to that of a complaint investigation.
On 22 January 2020, we were informed that during a meeting between the officer and his Federation Representative, he disclosed that he had, on occasion, had sex with a special constable while on duty.
We requested TVP refer the additional conduct matter on 23 January 2020.
Subsequently, he disclosed that he had sex with another officer while on duty and that he accessed TVP computer systems to use or share information he obtained for an inappropriate and non-policing purpose. All additional conduct matters were then included in our investigation.
Throughout this investigation, we examined:
• whether the officer took advantage of his position as a member of the police service to misuse his position, authority or powers in order to pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with any member of the public
• his use of police systems to obtain information on members of the public for a non-policing purpose and subsequent use of the information
• whether he had sex/sexual contact with any colleague(s) while on duty
• whether his actions were in line with local force policies and national guidelines
• five complaints from victims that the officer abused his power as a police officer to pursue inappropriate relationships with them and that he took advantage of them when they were vulnerable
• to investigate a complaint from a further victim against the officer, that he turned up at her home address in 2019 for no genuine policing purpose, after he had seen her earlier that day in a local car park
During our investigation, we gathered and analysed a significant volume of evidence. We executed a search warrant we obtained for the officer’s home and seized a laptop. We thoroughly analysed the digital data from his phones and laptop.
Evidence gathered showed the officer had:
• sent obscene and sexually explicit texts to women
• requested the women send intimate photographs of themselves
• sent hundreds of text messages to multiple women whilst he was on duty
• propositioned women for sex in their homes whilst their children were in the property
• used police computer systems for non-policing purposes to obtain information about women
We identified offensive material on the officer’s mobile phone of a sexual and violent nature, as well as derogatory remarks about victims of crime. The content was shared within a WhatsApp group chat, consisting of seven additional TVP officers.
We began a secondary linked inquiry to investigate this conduct. We obtained statements from several officers and consulted relevant policies and procedures. At the conclusion of our linked investigation in September 2020, we determined the subject officer had a case to answer for gross misconduct for being in possession of the offensive material and participating in a WhatsApp conversation that made offensive, derogatory comments about victims of crime. In addition, the officer did not challenge those who sent offensive material. We concluded the breaches of Standards of Professional Behaviour should be considered at a misconduct hearing.
Two additional TVP officers had a case to answer for misconduct for sending offensive material. We concluded the Standards of Professional Behaviour breached by one officer would be better dealt with as a performance matter and a first stage meeting would provide the necessary focus to eradicate this behaviour.
The third officer had an additional case to answer for engaging in inappropriate conversations of a misogynistic nature, regarding victims of crime, which should be considered at a misconduct meeting. We shared our findings with TVP, who agreed with our findings. A misconduct meeting resulted in the two officers receiving written warnings.
Women with whom the subject officer had an inappropriate relationship, bravely came forward to participate in interviews and provide statements. Considering the distressing nature of his actions and affliction caused, we ensured processes were in place throughout our investigation to support all victims subject to the officer’s predatory behaviour.
We also obtained statements from the subject officer and police witnesses. We considered the digital footprints on TVP case management systems and analysed the TVP police vehicle Automatic Person Location System data (APLS) alongside the officer’s duty shifts.
Our primary investigation concluded in June 2021.
We concluded that the evidence indicated the officer may have committed a criminal offence or acted in a way that justified disciplinary proceedings.
We concluded the officer had a case to answer for gross misconduct because the evidence suggested that the conduct of the officer was intentional, deliberate, targeted and planned and therefore he had a high degree of culpability.
In line with relevant guidance, more serious action is likely to be appropriate where the officer has demonstrated predatory behaviour motivated by a desire to establish a sexual or inappropriate emotional relationship with a colleague or member of the public. Such abuse of authority causes substantial damage to public trust and confidence in the police and is particularly serious where the victim of the officer’s behaviour is a vulnerable person.
Many people contact the police when they are at a particularly difficult or distressing point in their lives. The public are entitled to an integral, professional service where officers, under any circumstances, do not use their professional position to initiate or pursue a sexual or improper emotional relationship with a vulnerable person.
The officer subject to both investigation strands resigned in February 2022. TVP held accelerated misconduct proceedings and determined he would have been dismissed from the force had he not already resigned. The officer was placed on the College of Policing’s barred list preventing future employment with the police.
Due to the indication that a criminal offence may have been committed, we shared a file of evidence with the CPS which took the decision to authorise charges against the officer.
The officer admitted charges relating to pursuing multiple women for sex after meeting them during the course of his duties. In March 2022, he pleaded guilty to three charges of misconduct in public office, and two charges of unauthorised access to computer material, contrary to the Computer Misuse Act 1990.
On 29 April 2022, the officer was sentenced to three years and six months in jail.
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, some areas for improvement were identified. We consulted with TVP and reviewed their training on abuse of power for sexual purpose (APSP). TVP also updated their training since the conduct was identified and investigated.
The training outlined a number of practical scenarios, real life case studies, warning signs, as well as the implications and consequences of APSP. The training also highlighted how police officers could discuss or report concerns regarding APSP involving themselves or someone else, which included having a discussion with their supervisor.
We did not deem it necessary to issue recommendations using our legislative powers. In relation to our linked investigation, TVP amended their social media policies regarding the use of WhatsApp since this incident took place.