Exclusive analysis of Freedom of Information requests by the Byline Intelligence Team reveals how police officers abuse their power over witnesses and victims to get sex

Fourteen police officers over a four-year period abused their position for sexual gain, targeting vulnerable women they met through their policing duties, an investigation by the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal. 

A review of 18 police forces in England and Wales revealed that, in 76 cases of sexual misconduct, almost 20% involved officers abusing their powers to elicit sex from vulnerable members of the public. The analysis covered the years between 2017 and 2020.

Cases included officers sending sexually inappropriate text messages to minors.

A further 11 officers targeted women who they met through their policing duties, although the women were not identified as vulnerable in public documents.  

While the worst examples led to police officers being removed from their jobs, 16% of officers who targeted women they met through their policing duties remained in post.   

Sexually Inappropriate Behaviour

When Police Constable Ian Bell was investigating a missing person’s case, he met a 14-year-old girl living in a children’s home. He targeted the child with sexually inappropriate messages, asking her if she liked sex and calling her “cheeky”. He also referred to seeing her in a towel.

Bell was dismissed from the West Yorkshire police force in July 2018, but his case was not an isolated incident.

In November 2020, a Devon and Cornwall police officer was forced to leave the force after being found guilty of pursuing inappropriate relationships with an adult woman who was a domestic abuse victim, and a 16-year-old girl. He exchanged hundreds of sexually explicit messages with the both and had sex with both when on duty, on separate occasions. 

Sometimes police officers used their access to people’s personal information in order to target women. In Warrington, Constable Patrick Campbell used police systems to access information about women he met online. One woman said she had “genuine fear and distress” after he told her that he knew where she lived. PC Campbell resigned from the Cheshire Police. 

Not all the cases identified led to the officer being removed from their post or having to resign. 

In South Yorkshire, a policeman who pursued an improper relationship with a potentially vulnerable victim of crime kept their job. According to The Star, the pair “kissed and cuddled” over the course of their three-year relationship. He also received hundreds of pounds from the victim. The officer had met the vulnerable woman when she was a victim of theft and contacted her from his personal phone while the investigation was still ongoing. 

“The police are institutionally sexist – just like they’re institutionally racist – and I don’t think there’s enough commitment for it to be any different,” Morag Borszcz, a Rape Crisis counsellor, told Byline Times. Borszcz wants to see a complete overhaul of the system and an independent commission to deal with the sexual misconduct of policemen. She would also like to see mandatory, specialised sexual violence training introduced across the force.

Police officers committing violent acts against women and girls, or behaving in sexually inappropriate ways with women and girls, have been in the spotlight after a serving Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzen admitted murdering 33-year-old Sarah Everard.

Following her death, Home Secretary Priti Patel has pushed the narrative that abuse by the police is exceptional. 

She wrote in the Sun that, “the professionalism and conduct I have witnessed through my own engagement with the police since Sarah’s disappearance has reminded me that the vast majority of police officers serve with the utmost integrity and represent the very best of ­public service.”

However, a report by police watchdog Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services found that nearly all forces have dealt with cases where there has been an abuse of position for a sexual purpose. 

This, along with the data collected by Byline Times shows that the “bad apple” narrative about sexual misconduct in the police masks a widespread issue. 

Three-quarters of police guilty of gross negligence in their actions relating to sexual assault cases kept their jobs, while nearly half of officers guilty of committing sexual misconduct – including harassment of female colleagues – remain in post.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “The majority of police officers act with honesty and integrity and we expect the highest standards of professionalism from every officer. We rightly expect all allegations of sexual misconduct to be investigated thoroughly and where appropriate, referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct.”

In a statement issued in November 2020, Deputy Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall police, Jim Nye said the force takes “all reports of abuse of position very seriously” and that “the vast majority of our officers and staff go to work every day to help the public and keep them safe from harm”.

The officer in question, he continued, “took advantage of these women, who were considered to be vulnerable, at a time when they had approached the police for help and support. This type of behaviour has undoubtedly eroded the women’s trust and confidence in policing. The officer’s behaviour was absolutely unacceptable, damaging to our reputation and will not be tolerated by Devon and Cornwall Police or the communities we serve.”

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.


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