Domestic abuse charities warn Portsmouth PC's abuse of position may 'cost lives'

CHARITIES have warned the case of a police officer sacked for pursuing a sexual relationship with a domestic abuse victim ‘may cost lives’ if women are deterred from reporting abuse.

Friday, 22nd October 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Friday, 22nd October 2021, 8:33 am
Pictured is: Donna Jones, police and crime commissioner. Picture: Keith Woodland (091119-107)

The Portsmouth PC was sacked for gross misconduct yesterday following a nine-day hearing that heard he kissed the woman, hugged her - and invited her to his flat to ask her out for cocktails.

He was specially trained in domestic abuse and was assigned to the woman’s case but bombarded her with WhatsApp messages and calls while off duty and from his personal phone.

The ‘highly-vulnerable’ woman later said: ‘I don’t trust police officers anymore.’

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A panel - who banned the media from naming him - ruled he pursued a sexual or emotional relationship with the woman and sacked him without notice.

Claire Lambon, chief executive at Havant-based Stop Domestic Abuse, said it was ‘unacceptable’ Officer A misused his ‘position of power and authority to take advantage of a vulnerable victim’.

She said: ‘Incidents like this might deter a victim from seeking help, it might cost lives.’

On the officer being granted anonymity, she added: ‘How do we know whether he abused his position with other vulnerable women?

‘We must ensure that the police are held to account and that confidence in them is not eroded.’

Portsmouth South MP Stephen Morgan said he will ask home secretary Priti Patel to consider the case in her inquiry into conduct and standards following the murder of Sarah Everard by Metropolitan PC Wayne Couzens.

He said: ‘It is essential that women and girls have confidence in the police to keep them safe.

‘Hampshire Constabulary must learn lessons from this case, and quickly. I will be following up with senior officers to ensure this happens.’

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Zoe Jackson, director of policy at domestic abuse charity Aurora New Dawn, urged anyone concerned to seek support from a local service.

She said: ‘Victims of domestic abuse put their trust in the police to protect them.

‘Any officer found to be abusing that trust must be dealt with in the strongest possible terms and it is absolutely right that the individual in this case was dismissed.’

Hampshire police and crime commissioner Donna Jones said her preference would be to ‘always publicise the individual's names in cases such as this to act as a deterrent’.

She said: ‘The whole incident is a despicable situation.

‘Police officers are in a position of trust and this trust from the goodwill of the public renders some people more vulnerable, such as in this case. The victim’s trust in the police has been damaged and that causes me concern.’

Ms Jones said police rules that allow officers anonymity in some cases do not need to be changed but said ‘they need to be used fairly’. She said a ban on The News reporting the full reasons for anonymity ‘raises more questions’.

When sacking Officer A, panel chair Sarah Gaunt said: ‘His actions were intentional and deliberate. The conduct was a fundamental breach of public trust.’

Hampshire police is now asking the College of Policing to put Officer A on the public barred list. A spokeswoman confirmed the force would not ask for his name to be withheld.

Officer A, who deleted messages on his phone to hide his wrongdoing, was redeployed to an alternative role during the investigation instead of being suspended as this was 'appropriate in this case,’ she said.

She added the force is 'fully supportive' of the presumption of hearings taking place in public and 'officers should expect to be named' - but that it is a decision for the chair.

She said: 'Police misconduct is an employment matter relating to unacceptable behaviour in the workplace, and the right to privacy of the officers and their families must be considered, alongside any medical or security issues.'

Deputy chief constable Ben Snuggs said the public should have trust and confidence in the police as such behaviour is ‘rooted out’.

He said: ‘There is no place in policing for those who use their position to abuse the trust placed in us by vulnerable members of the public.’

The panel ruled that the officer could not be named, saying in a statement: ‘Media are unable to identify officer A as a reporting restriction was put in place.

‘The decision has been made based upon a review of medical evidence which supports the requirement for the officer to remain anonymous in order to protect their welfare.’