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Viewpoint: we aren’t just numbers

An officer who has been through a criminal and misconduct investigation and fought to clear his name and record, argues for retention of safeguards

I have read with increasing unease the claims from the NPCC that they need regulations that will assist them in ridding themselves of officers unfit to wear the uniform. My own case highlights the dangers of pursuing a policy of organisational reputation before truth, and the very real damage caused to a police officer who faces a wrongful allegation.

I would like to add some context as to why the following series of events had such a profound impact on me and indeed my daughter who sadly had to witness her father falling apart because of an allegation of domestic abuse. I came from a large family, who spent a number of years in and out of domestic abuse homes because of my father’s gambling addiction. Sadly, like most of those with such addictions, he lost more than he won and his family was the vehicle of choice to vent his temper. From a young age, I was left with a very positive view of the police. I remember the officers were always kind and tried to do what they could, however, for all the reasons well known my mother would never complain or support a prosecution.   

I joined the Junior Soldiers Battalion in Shorncliffe at the age of 15 and served for just under seven years seeing service in Belfast and Londonderry in the late 80s and early 90s. I left the military and after a few years working at an engineering firm, I applied for the police and was lucky enough to be selected. I had a good career, with people I liked very much and a new young family to support.  

In 2010, like many people, my marriage ended. It wasn’t acrimonious in fact we accepted that we were just different people and wanted very different things. I moved a short distance away so that I could help with childcare and try and minimise the impact on the children. In 2016 things changed between my ex and I and the relationship between us  became strained. In June 2016, my ex decided to throw out my daughter after she had disclosed to a neighbour that her husband had been having an affair with her mum for a few years even leading up to the marriage. My daughter came to live with me and after a few weeks, it was clear she wasn’t doing well. I went round to speak to my ex and we had an argument on the doorstep, which ended with my ex-wife pushing me by the throat. 

Going to the address was an error on my part, my ex had made it clear that our daughter was my problem, and she didn’t want to go to counseling. I should have just left things and got help for my daughter myself, which is what happened in the long run. My ex’s partner had been watching from the window and had called the police, and officers attended. I was mortified and told them I would go and wait at the police station. I waited at the station for two hours, before I was eventually arrested for common assault by a senior officer, and I was conveyed to another force to be dealt with. I was arrested for common assault as my ex had a broken false nail which had occurred when she pushed me, a fact that she had disclosed to the attending officers. 

I was held in custody for 19 hours before being interviewed and further arrested for harassment, released and taken home to a very distraught daughter who had been present when officers had searched our home and seized computers and communications equipment including her laptop. My daughter was 15 at the time and this left a very real mark on her. It would be fair to say that the next two weeks on bail were horrendous, although no further action came relatively quickly, I was served with misconduct papers very quickly afterward. I do have to add that I was fortunate that the PSD department was very quick to reach a decision that there was no case to answer. I was very ill at this point, and this culminated in a failed suicide attempt by hanging after the wall hook snapped in the outhouse where I was living. I recognise this was an irresponsible and selfish act but I was in a huge amount of pain and all I wanted was for it to end.  My supervisors all retorted it was yesterday’s news and would soon be forgotten. In all honesty that really wasn’t the point - it occupied my every waking moment, and I wasn’t being a supportive father. I spent swathes of my time in bed or breaking down in tears. The local federation did what they could to support me, however, because the incident took place outside of the workplace, they refused to assist with helping me clear my name which was hugely important because my early home life had been so traumatic.

I was beside myself that in one act I had been reduced to the same status as my father. All I wanted from the service was to acknowledge what had happened was wrong and remove my details from ACRO.  This was refused and sadly I had to pay for a solicitor on a no win no fee basis to try and achieve what I needed. This is where the real problems began and pressure from the organisation started to be exerted. As a colleague once said “You will be forgiven for the arrest, but they won't forgive this, just park it mate”. Looking back now this was a very accurate statement, the organisation I worked for used various legal frameworks to try and refuse the release of the BWV and attending officers' statements. The crime notes were so redacted that my solicitor couldn’t make head nor tail of them and we had to threaten further court action just to get their release. 

Shortly after a rather pointed letter from my solicitor the BWV was released alongside the attending officers’ notes.They revealed that my ex had stated repeatedly she injured her finger herself and that I had never been violent. Part of the basis for the harassment arrest was her complaint that she had received a letter from my solicitor seeking early selling of the ex-marital home which was not what she wanted. I was very clear about what I wanted from the settlement, and money wasn’t what I wanted, and what did come I donated to two charities. 

Because of the weaponisation of my Job, I have been diagnosed with PTSD.  Whilst the service has moved on, not a day goes by where something doesn’t remind me of it.  At times, I still have the same re-occurring dream that I am drowning and the boat I was in is disappearing above me. As far as my career is concerned the consequences have been just as catastrophic.I was due to do a funded degree at Cambridge, however, this was removed on the basis that it might be a bit much for me given how poorly I was. I decided to complete my own self-funded MSc in Criminal Forensic Psychology.  I asked to have a career change and completed my NIE exam gaining among the top marks in my force. But this career change didn’t come to pass - the rationale being that the courses had been used up and I was being removed from the pathway. Despite receiving outstanding PDRS for three years running, local and national leadership awards promotion is closed to me for various reasons. After three years of having my application returned (eight times  in one instance) for amendment I finally got the message. I cannot move forces because whilst I have been removed from ACRO I still have to disclose on enhanced DBS that I was arrested for a crime, and in the current climate who wants to take a chance? I have come to accept this now and take solace in the fact that my daughter has just completed her law degree gaining a 1st and her mental health has greatly improved. Also, I do not have that long to do before I can leave. 

As a police officer I never gave much thought to the effects that the process of arrest has on the individual, I do now. That effect is amplified when the accused is a police officer. In my view the investigation into wrongdoing is never designed to elicit the truth, and the criminal investigation ends at the point of whether there is sufficient evidence to charge - a simple yes or no.  At this point, the misconduct hearing takes over with the primary function of protecting the reputation of the organisation. Surely the primary function should be to elicit the truth of the matter and offer a proportionate sanction?  I for one am grateful for the Independent Chair and any erosion of this would surely hasten in an era of McCarthyism where the deciding factor is a senior officer who is determined to amputate the limb rather than proffer a proportionate sanction.

Some commentators have suggested that senior officers are out of touch with officers. I don’t believe that is true, I believe that the NPCC is gripped by what Thomas Sowell refers to as "the vision of the anointed".  There are several prevailing assumptions: forces are beset with corruption, sexism and officer perpetrated violence.There is no deep analysis of the factors just an acceptance of those assumptions without question for fear of being labeled as something sinister. This is an easy comment to make but I do offer the observation that the criminal justice system is an industry, like any other, with each arm competing for its quota of funds. The  recent VAWG super complaint around police perpetrated violence was based on poor science in terms of properly examining the data. Despite these shortcomings, it is now accepted doctrine based on 18 testimonies and a solicitor's account. That is not to say that there aren’t police perpetrators, but officers are society, and the prevalence rates are not greater than the rest of the population. In fact per capita they are less, but the accepted doctrine has ensured increased funding for this small branch of our justice system.

Editor's note: the name of the officer who authored this article has been witheld to protect his family's identity.

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