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Zara (not her real name) was still in the hospital when she realised the police would be coming. She had just been run over by a former partner as part of a domestic dispute.
Everything seemed normal when she went with the police to the station to discuss the incident back in June 2020. Two weeks later, while out with a friend at Nando’s, she got a call with no caller ID. It was her arresting officer.
“He said ‘I’m just calling to see how your leg is’. That was his opening line,” she told Byline Times.
The conversation soon became uncomfortable. He started flirting with her, asking if she wanted to share her Nando’s meal with him, and saying that “in my line of work there’s not a lot of people you want to meet again” and that it was “nice to look at” her body while she was in custody.
“It felt really awkward and I just wanted the call to end,” she said. “His last words were ‘given the chance, I would have loved to have conducted the search on you in custody’ – then I hung up.”
“The officer in question was the one that checked me in at the station,” she added. “He was well aware that I had mental health issues and was a victim of domestic violence.”
A statement by the Metropolitan Police at the time acknowledged that the officer’s “flirtatious conversation” with Zara was “wholly inappropriate and fell far below the standards expected of a police officer”. It said sanctions had been applied to the officer.
But Zara is still angry about how it was handled.
“When I hung up, I drove to the police station and said I wanted to report a police officer, which they all laughed at and tried to shoo me away,” she recalled. “I genuinely do believe if I didn’t have a recording of him, no one would have investigated, they wouldn’t have checked to see if he actually gone and accessed my number. I doubt anyone would have either taken a statement off me that day.”
The police officer only ended up receiving a formal warning.
“They said that because he’d started the conversation with ‘how’s your leg?’ – even though he was off-duty in his own car and had to access the database to get my number and use it on his personal phone – it was for police purposes,” Zara said. “He was basically given a slap on the wrist.
“He is still a police officer in Croydon. The other day and we were side-by-side in traffic. I think the police are like a gang, there’s no other word for it. They’re so backhanded in everything they do, and they really do just stick up for their own.”
Unfortunately, Zara is far from alone.
‘You Lose Any Faith You Have in the System’
The crisis in UK policing has only been growing in prominence in recent months and years after a string of criminal officers have come to light.
The most high-profile of these have included serial Met Police officer rapist David Carrick; and Wayne Couzens, who used his police ID and handcuffs during the kidnap and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in 2021.
In recent months, Byline Times itself has revealed that police forces have been subject to record levels of misconduct complaints, that the police watchdog is investigating fewer than 1% of complaints, and that almost one in four reasons given for police officer dismissals for serious misconduct last year were for sexual offences.
At some police forces in the country, the number of annual complaint allegations actually heavily outnumber the number of officers serving.
This newspaper has been speaking to victims of police misconduct like Zara to share their all too first-hand stories of the kind of abuses happening up and down the country.
The husband of Karen (not her real name) turned abusive not long after their child was born. He had serious health issues and she says him and his family took issue with how much time she was spending with their son in the hospital.
“My husband then became more aggressive at the time, and started to try and throw me and my son out,” she told Byline Times. “And this was coming up to like the middle of the night. He then hits me and tried to throw me down the stairs. I tried to do what I could to get through the night.”
The next day she called her family, and her sister called the police to give Karen safe escort from the home.
“I think it was about a month or two later that my then husband happened to say ‘we know what you said to the police. We know your sister made the phone call’,” she recalled. “And that’s when we started thinking: how would they have known that she called the police? No one would have known that as that wasn’t said to anybody.”
It was then that they remembered that her then brother-in-law worked for West Midlands Police and she made an urgent complaint to the police. It took the force a year to finalise the complaint investigation. In the final hearing, he was issued with a final written warning.
“I was thinking the whole time: are they going to come here? How much more do they know? And I was living with my sister who made the phone call. So then she got paranoid because they had access to her information, because her address was logged,” Karen said.
“You also lose any faith and trust that you have in the police –I mean this was domestic abuse and this happened. You lose any faith you have in the system and the people who should be there to protect you. It should be that if you breach confidentiality like this, you’re not a police officer any more.”
A West Midlands Police spokesperson said the force acknowledged the facts of the case and the final written warning outcome handed to the officer. They confirmed he is still employed.
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‘It Felt Like they Enjoyed Doing What They Did’
Erin Dawson was a student at Salford University when she went to a protest in central Manchester over the Government’s proposed increasing of police powers to break up protests. It was just a couple of weeks after a vigil in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard was violently dispersed by the Met in south London.
After a few hours, the crowd was ordered to disperse by police, under what they called “the power of being nice”. Soon after, riot police arrived to disperse the protest.
As she was being dragged across the square, Erin’s jeans were dragged down and her t-shirt was pulled up, leaving her naked except for her underwear.
She was eventually issued a fixed penalty noticed and released from custody.
“I was at the police station until midnight and, when I was let out, I saw photos of when I was up being dragged along the floor – it was worse than I realised,” she told Byline Times. “That sort of set me off again. It flung me into quite a bit of chaos for the few months after. It took me six months to even write up what I thought about it all.”
In a statement after the event, Greater Manchester Police said that “no misconduct” had been identified among its officers, but that it “apologised for any distress caused”.
In the end, the penalty notice she was issued with was overturned – suggesting the entire police intervention was unjustified. Erin was never directly told by the police that they had decided the penalty notice was wrong – she only found out when she the fine was refunded.
After Erin was put in touch with a lawyer who threatened to take the police to court, Greater Manchester Police offered her compensation of £5,000.
The incident seriously impacted her mental health for months. Even years later, it casts a big shadow.
“There’s been a police car parked on the car on the road nearby,” she said. “And it still makes me quite anxious to see that car being parked there because it felt like they enjoyed doing what they did to me.”
Matthew McConville, a lawyer at Irvings Law working in its specialist ‘actions against the police’ wing, represented several of the victims featured in this article.
He told this newspaper: “The public have the right to expect integrity in the police service and should have confidence in police officers to act in a professional manner. Unfortunately, there has been a definite shortfall in the service that these clients have received and there are grave concerns over how police forces deal with them as a whole too.”
The sad reality is that a recurring theme with every one of those Byline Times spoke to was that the experience had left them with a complete lack of faith in the police.