Two Sussex officers sacked over PC’s “inappropriate relationship” with woman
Two Sussex Police officers have been dismissed for gross misconduct following an investigation into an police constable’s “inappropriate relationship” with a woman.
Police Constable David Mendes, 46, and Sergeant Victoria Ambrose, 46, were dismissed without notice following a disciplinary hearing, which concluded last week.
The hearing followed a nine-month Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation, which began after it received a conduct referral from the force regarding an allegation that PC Mendes had formed an “inappropriate relationship with a woman he met through the course of his duties and failed to report the relationship to the force’s vetting department”.
The woman had reported being harassed by a former partner in February 2020 and PC Mendes, who was based at Hastings police station, took a statement from her regarding the alleged harassment.
Sgt Ambrose, a personal friend of the woman, became PC Mendes’ supervisor in April 2020 and had added him to a WhatsApp group where the woman was also a member.
In May 2020 the woman messaged the group saying she had baked a cake for Sgt Ambrose who had injured her hand. The woman then sent PC Mendes a private message offering him a cake, which he collected the following day.
Two weeks later, PC Mendes moved in with her as she was renting out a spare room.
“Our investigation found the woman had told Sgt Ambrose that PC Mendes had moved in with her. Despite this, Sgt Ambrose deliberately made misleading notes in her notebook later that month by stating that PC Mendes was ‘sofa surfing’ with friends and omitted to state that he was staying with the woman,” said the IOPC.
“The following month, PC Mendes and the woman attended a barbecue – hosted by Sgt Ambrose – and acted ‘like a couple’.”
The hearing heard that Sgt Ambrose failed to challenge or report PC Mendes’ conduct despite knowing they were seeing each other. She was also aware the pair had met through his policing duties and that he had formed an inappropriate relationship with her when she was in a vulnerable position.
When interviewed by the IOPC, PC Mendes claimed that Sgt Ambrose told him she would “play clever” by giving the vetting department false accounts of the relationship and encouraged him to do the same.
In July 2020, Sgt Ambrose contacted the vetting department and said that PC Mendes was “sofa-surfing” with friends. She failed to state she knew he was living with or in a relationship with the woman, who was a victim of domestic violence and whom he had met in the course of his duties.
“In a separate investigation we also found that Sgt Ambrose had attended a police incident involving the woman’s daughter at a hospital in 2017 and, in doing so, had neglected her duties by not declaring her personal knowledge of the family and reporting a potential conflict of interest,” said the IOPC.
“She also gave a false account of her role in this matter.”
Following the hearing PC Mendes was dismissed for breaching the police professional standards of behaviour relating to discreditable conduct; duties and responsibilities; honesty and integrity; and authority, respect and courtesy.
Sgt Ambrose was also dismissed after being found to have breached the police professional standards of behaviour relating to discreditable conduct, duties and responsibilities, challenging and reporting improper conduct, and honesty and integrity.
A third officer, former PC Sally Agutter, was cleared of allegations of breaching professional standards of behaviour, including for discreditable conduct and challenging and reporting improper conduct.
Chief Superintendent Steve Rayland, head of Sussex Police’s Professional Standards Department, said: “We expect our officers and staff to act in accordance with the Code of Ethics and the standards of professional behaviour. The actions of these officers fell far short of these which is reflected in the findings by the panel.
“The unacceptable conduct that has been heard here will not be tolerated but this poor behaviour should not overshadow the hard work by the vast majority of our officers, staff and volunteers within Sussex Police.”
IOPC Regional Director Mel Palmer said: “When officers abuse their position for a sexual purpose, it threatens to undermine the public’s trust that the vast majority of officers work extremely hard to build.
“PC Mendes met this woman through the course of his duties and then started communicating via a WhatsApp group. He then failed to report that he was in a relationship with her.
“Sgt Ambrose was an experienced officer in a position of responsibility and after learning of the officer’s inappropriate relationship with a victim of crime, she should have challenged or promptly reported the matter. She also lied to the vetting department, failing to give the full extent of her knowledge of the situation to them.
“The officers have learnt that their actions have serious consequences and both have now been placed on the College of Policing’s barred list meaning they cannot work in policing again.”