A police chief has admitted a decision by a misconduct panel to grant lifelong anonymity to a male officer who harassed a female domestic abuse victim opened the service up to accusations of a lack of transparency.
The specially trained domestic officer bombarded the young woman with messages as he pursued an “improper emotional relationship” with her after being assigned to work on her case, the panel heard.
He was accused of sending her wink-face emojis with kisses, asked her on a cocktail date, invited her to his home, and gave her hugs and a kiss.
The panel ruled on Wednesday that the Hampshire officer’s actions amounted to gross misconduct but he was granted lifelong anonymity to protect his welfare.
Speaking to the Guardian, deputy chief constable Ben Snuggs said it had been the decision of the independent panel chair to decide whether the officer could be named.
He said the force was keen that hearings be heard in public, but the naming of officers had to be considered on a case-by-case basis.
“I completely understand how to onlookers why it looks like it is lacking in transparency. From a Hampshire constabulary perspective, we’re very aware of that,” he said.
There have been a series of high-profile disciplinary hearings involving Hampshire officers in recent months.
In December, six members of the force’s serious organised crime unit were found guilty of gross misconduct after a covert bug recorded them regularly making offensive remarks, including wishing death on foreigners. An investigation found that part of the office where a black officer worked was called “Africa corner”.
The officers were named in that case, but in June a former police sergeant who used racist and homophobic language in messages to a fellow officer with whom he was having an affair was not named.
Snuggs said he did not believe there was a culture problem in Hampshire but argued there has been a backlog of disciplinary cases because of Covid that are now coming through the system. He claimed the force was proactive in encouraging people to report breaches of discipline.
He said: “We have got to be constantly mindful that every interaction counts, every interaction with a colleague, with a member of the public really matters. We want to get that right.”
Asked if misconduct cases knocked morale, Snuggs replied: “Absolutely. They knock morale, they cause a lot of soul-searching. It does hurt.”
Jamie Klingler, co-founder of Reclaim These Streets, criticised the decision to ban the officer in the latest case from being identified. She said: “We need all police to be held accountable for their actions. Why are they hiding it?”
Barrister Sarah Gaunt, chair of the misconduct panel, limited what the media could say about why the officer was granted anonymity. It can only be reported that “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”.
Giving the reasons for the panel finding that the officer’s actions amounted to gross misconduct, Gaunt said the woman was “vulnerable if not highly vulnerable” and as her assigned officer he was in a position of authority.
She said: “He did not respect the vulnerability of female A and disproportionately abused his status as a police officer to retain and maintain in contact, and for the purpose of a sexual or improper emotional relationship with her.”
Female A said in a police interview: “It’s made me paranoid, especially around male police officers. I also worry about calling police now … What he did wasn’t right and I felt like other police officers might be like that.”
The officer will be sanctioned at a later date.