Officer dismissed after ‘predatory behaviour’ with vulnerable woman

An officer who had sex with a vulnerable woman at an industrial estate while on duty in 2016 has been dismissed after an investigation by the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

Apr 16, 2024
By Paul Jacques

Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson said the officer’s dismissal by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) demonstrated that “predatory behaviour has no place in policing”.

The PSNI condemned the officer’s behaviour as “completely abhorrent”.

The incident came to light in 2019 when the woman called 999 to seek assistance.

Concerned for her safety, police officers took her to Antrim police station where she told officers that she had been at the same station in 2016 to report a burglary when an officer made inappropriate comments and touched her sexually.

The woman said she was experiencing a number of challenges in her life at the time.

She added that a short time after having consensual sex with the officer in a secluded area of trees in the industrial estate, he called to warn her not to tell anyone about what had happened.

Mrs Anderson said: “The evidence obtained during the course of the investigation was clear that this officer preyed on a woman who was obviously vulnerable.

“The incident occurred in a public space while the officer was on duty. He lied repeatedly to my investigators even when faced with mounting evidence of serious misconduct. In short his behaviour was reprehensible and ill befits the standards required of police officers.”

Mrs Anderson added that the power imbalance between police and members of the public was often not fully recognised or appreciated.

“Police often come into people’s lives at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, and during such times those members of the public should be protected rather than exploited,” she said.

“Such behaviour is a fundamental betrayal of public trust. When proven, it is serious corruption and will not be tolerated.

“My office is investigating a number of cases involving similar allegations against other police officers.

“I would urge anyone who believes they have been targeted by a police officer for sexual gain to immediately contact my office so that their concerns can be thoroughly and independently investigated.”

Mrs Anderson commenced an ‘own motion investigation’ after the PSNI informed her about the woman’s claims.

Data obtained from police systems evidenced that the officer had travelled to the industrial estate in an unmarked police car similar in colour to a description provided by his victim’s friend.

The officer’s personal phone records were examined, revealing that he had called the woman seven times within two hours on the afternoon of the incident. Analysis showed that these calls had been made shortly before the officer left the police station, during his journey to the industrial estate and shortly after his return to the station.

When initially interviewed by Police Ombudsman investigators, the officer claimed his only contact with the woman had been to provide her with an update about the progress of the burglary investigation.

He also alleged that his visit to the industrial estate had been while on patrol with colleagues as it was an area renowned for drug dealing.

When challenged that other members of his crew had at the time been in Newtownabbey, he responded that they must have been called to another job.

The officer was interviewed again after Police Ombudsman investigators had obtained his personal phone records. He then claimed that the multiple calls made to the victim had been to seek more information about a bracelet stolen during the burglary in advance of a planned search operation the following day.

However, when Police Ombudsman investigators examined the police file for the burglary, there was no specific mention of the bracelet, and other police officers who had worked on the case could recall no inquiries relating to it.

After completing their investigation, Police Ombudsman investigators submitted files to the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) in relation to the offences of sexual assault and misconduct in public office.

The PPS directed no prosecution, after which the Police Ombudsman submitted a file to the PSNI’s Professional Standards Department recommending that the officer should be disciplined.

In March 2022, a police misconduct hearing reached a unanimous decision that he should be dismissed without notice for multiple breaches of the PSNI Code of Ethics. These included failing to act with integrity and to uphold human rights, acting in a way that “may reasonably be perceived to be abuse, harassment, bullying or victimisation”, and behaving in a way likely to bring discredit on the Police Service.

Panel members found the officer guilty of gross misconduct, and noted that any lesser sanction than dismissal would have been “manifestly inadequate.”

The officer appealed the outcome, and in December 2022 his dismissal was upheld following an appeal hearing.

“Cases such as these can be challenging and complex to investigate,” said Mrs Anderson.

“In this case, the victim was vulnerable and unwilling to make a complaint due to fear and intimidation, and only reported the incident three years later.

“This presented significant evidential challenges, but as this case demonstrates, I will use all the powers available to me to ensure that all such allegations are thoroughly and robustly investigated.”

Chief Superintendent Stephen Wright, head of the PSNI’s Professional Standards, said: “The officer’s conduct in this case was completely abhorrent and a blatant contravention of the Code of Ethics. He was rightly dismissed from the Police Service in 2022, following a formal misconduct investigation and hearing.

“As a police officer, he was trusted with helping a woman whom he knew to be vulnerable. Instead of protecting her, he used his authority to take advantage of her.

“This was an appalling and despicable breach of trust and, as our panel found, amounted to gross misconduct. Such actions fall far short of the standards expected of police officers, and will not be tolerated by the PSNI.”

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