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Panel accepts sergeant’s claim sex with woman was not consensual

The former Avon and Somerset Sergeant had been facing misconduct charges over consensual sex with a drunken woman while on duty.

A former Avon and Somerset Sergeant has been cleared of misconduct after a panel accepted his account that he had been sexually assaulted while driving a woman home on duty.

PS Lee Cocking had previously been acquitted at court following an earlier trial which led to a hung jury. He has also since resigned from the force but still faced misconduct proceedings.

In December 2017, PS Cocking, acting Inspector for Weston-super-Mare, responded to a notification from CCTV operators regarding a drunken woman, Ms A.

He was joined at the scene by another officer –A/PS Louise Arthur, and CCTV footage shows Ms A in an “animated state” and “getting in the faces” of both officers.

When Ms A was unable to find her friends, Mr Cocking said he would drive her home in his unmarked car. The other officer had returned to the nightclub to see if there had been any incident.

Part way through the journey, Mr Cocking pulled into a layby at which point he received a radio call from Comms which he answered but did not give details of the situation he was in. Ms A was also not heard in the background of the call.

The sexual activity took place later – in the car at a distance fewer than 100 yards from her parents’ home. Mr Cocking said that he pushed her away once but not a second time. He said he was “frozen and unable to react”. He later explained he suffers with PTSD, anxiety and depression.

When it ended, he drove her the long way back round to her house – something the panel said could be consistent either with his wanting to spend more time with her, or his being in a state of distress.

On December 30, Ms A made a drunken call to Devon and Cornwall at the command of friends she was with – but she gave no details and was not forthcoming about what had happened. She was clear, however that she was not raped.

The panel’s judgement outlined that the offer to drive her home when he was single crewed was a “naïve one”, in terms of Mr Cocker's own security. However, they also acknowledged that it was an example of “pragmatic policing” – given she had told him she had no money for a taxi.

“The Panel does not conclude that it is more likely than not that Mr Cocking offered Ms A a lift home in the hope or expectation that there would be some kind of sexual liaison on the way,” the report confirmed.

The Panel further did not accept the Appropriate Authority’s submission that Mr Cocking’s mental health was not relevant in what happened.

The AA had submitted that it was not possible for a man to be a victim of sexual assault in those circumstances.

Following the event, Ms A denied that anything had happened four times to the police, and while she gave evidence during the court case – she did not co-operate with misconduct proceedings.  

The Panel concluded: “The Panel appreciates that the headline of this case is that a sober police officer had sexual contact with a drunken woman to whom he was giving a lift home.

“Bearing in mind all that we know of Ms A's conduct earlier in the evening, (information which was not known to Mr Cocking at the time of his arrest and first account) and Mr Cocking’s mental health and his own conduct earlier that evening in terms of his dealings with Ms A which show no sign of attraction, we find that his version is more likely to be true than the suggestion that the sex between them was consensual.”

He had also faced an allegation that he was dishonest about the state of his mental health when he was presented to the custody sergeant.

However, here the panel said: “We do not find that the answer given by Mr Cocking to the single question which we have identified as being relevant was misconduct.”

DCC Nikki Watson confirmed that the force “respects” the LQC’s authority.

“But we are disappointed that having carefully weighed up all the evidence they have ruled the allegations around dishonesty and discreditable conduct were not proven.

“We have consistently believed the actions of the former officer on 24 December 2017 fell short of those standards and were not what the public would expect from their police service.

“We have invested a significant amount of time and resources into both a criminal and misconduct investigation since 2017. The officer involved is no longer employed by Avon and Somerset Police.”

Mr Cocking’s first trial led to a hung jury, but he was acquitted in the second.

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