SMB (Makbool Javaid, Chichi Afunugo, Julia Weall and Tracey Victorin) acting for the claimant, the Chief Constable of British Transport Police (BTP), succeeded in a significant case concerning the abuse of police officers’ powers towards lone women. The SMB team overturned the decision of a Police Misconduct Panel in a judicial review brought in the High Court of Justice.
The case involved an off-duty police officer, PC Aftab, who during the pandemic lockdown approached a lone female out jogging, having got out of his car alongside her, leaving the engine running. PC Aftab engaged in conversation for no policing purpose telling the woman that she was “too curvy to be Asian” and showing her his warrant card to confirm that he was a police officer. She informed him that she was meeting someone and that she was “taken”; and messaged a friend saying “help me”. He stood close to her to show her photographs of himself working out in the gym, on his mobile telephone. He asked for her telephone number and immediately called her to check she had given him the correct number. Before she left, he asked her for a hug. After she walked away, he drove alongside her at a slow speed seeking to wave at her. That evening he messaged her addressing her as “babe”.
Following the woman’s complaint that she felt sexually harassed, a disciplinary process resulted in a Police Misconduct Panel finding that there was gross misconduct by the officer but it imposed an outcome of a final written warning.
BTP disagreed and successfully challenged the decision in the High Court of Justice. The judgment provides important guidance to police forces and misconduct panels on how to deal with officers who abuse their position for a sexual purpose and who misuse their warrant cards for personal gain.
The judge held that the Panel had failed to grasp the seriousness and significance of the officer’s conduct and the impact that such conduct has upon public confidence in the police. He held that a warrant card provides an officer with the means to disable, disarm, placate and reassure members of the public so that they acquiesce to the officer in ways that they would not to a member of the public. The use of a warrant card to influence a lone woman for the officer’s personal gain so seriously undermines public confidence that it is corrosive to policing by consent. He held that this conduct should properly have been characterised as APSP (abuse of position for a sexual purpose) and “serious corruption” which has no place in policing.
The judge determined that “It was clearly inappropriate to meet the conduct as found by the Panel with anything short of dismissal”.
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