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Force IT worker used ‘back door’ method to access victim images

Digital forensic specialist given three years for misconduct in a public office

A Staffordshire Police digital forensics staff member who stored images of murder victims and crime scenes on devices found at his home has been jailed for three years.

Darren Collins, who is said to have acted out of “morbid curiosity”, admitted misconduct in a public office last month after being sacked by Staffordshire Police for gross misconduct.

Collins, the court was told, had used a “back door” method to access images of murder scenes, including a deposition site, pictures taken at post-mortem examinations, and others relating to road traffic collisions.

After his arrest, Collins, who had worked for Staffordshire Police for 18 years, claimed he looked at the images because digital forensics was a “stepping stone” and he wanted to become a scenes of crime officer.

In a statement issued after Collins pleaded guilty, Staffordshire Police said a rigorous and extensive investigation found no evidence the images had been shared.

A comprehensive review of current security and access systems and processes had also been carried out, the force said.

Birmingham Crown Court was told 56-year-old Collins “thought he might just get a telling off” if colleagues found he had been storing and viewing images without authorisation.

Opening the case against Collins, of Pinewood Drive, Little Haywood, near Stafford, prosecutor Simon Davis said the defendant first appeared in court in 2019 and had since seen various proceedings delayed by the pandemic.

Mr Davis told the court Collins had admitted a charge relating to illegal access to and storage of images of deceased persons between January 2014 and December 2018.

Addressing Friday’s hearing, defence barrister Kelly Cyples said Collins suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of legitimate work on investigations into child abuse.

She told Judge Roderick Henderson: “The crux of this case is that, at the time, Mr Collins certainly did not realise that what he was doing was criminal.

“He accepts and understands, with the benefit of hindsight, he should not have and was not permitted to look at other images beyond the parameters he had been given for his actual role.

“There was no malicious intent and the images have never been shown to anyone else.”

Passing sentence, Judge Henderson said relatives of victims had to be informed Collins had looked at images featuring their loved ones.

“These people of course suffered dreadfully with the loss of their loved ones,” the judge said.

“To discover now that you were looking (at the images) for nothing but gratuitous curiosity is a further grievous insult to them, their memory, and their families.

“The behaviour of this defendant is utterly exceptional in my experience. This is a case which calls out for immediate custody.”

Staffordshire’s Deputy Chief Constable Emma Barnett said: “Collins pleaded guilty to a serious criminal offence and today’s sentencing reflects that.

“I’m very sorry for the additional distress that Collins’ actions caused to the families of the victims involved.

“We expect the highest levels of honesty and integrity from all of our officers and staff and anyone who falls below these standards will be held to account.

“The force is promoting a safe and open culture which makes clear to officers and staff that they are duty bound to challenge and report behaviour that does not align with the Code of Ethics.”

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