Thames Valley Police were told a police officer had “repeatedly asked a 15-year-old girl to send naked pictures of herself” before he went on to commit a child sexual offence, a new inspection has found.
The incident was flagged as one of at least five opportunities lost by the force to take stricter action against former Pc Luke Horner before he engaged in penetrative sexual activity with a child aged 13 on June 11 this year.
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) was commissioned by the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley to consider if there had been any lost opportunities in how the force dealt with intelligence and information relating to Horner during his service.
HMICFRS concluded that Thames Valley Police could not have reasonably anticipated Horner would commit sexual offences against a child.
But the inspectorate found that the force lost at least five opportunities to take stricter action against him both at the initial vetting stage and during his police service, which could have led to him being refused initial vetting clearance or dismissed.
Horner, who resigned as an officer on July 26, travelled to Rushden, Northamptonshire, while off duty to commit the offence.
The court heard that Horner also recorded the act on his victim’s phone.
He was jailed earlier this month for six years and four months.
At the initial vetting stage, the force should have made further inquiries into two separate issues – a potential sexual assault allegation in 2016 and his early departure from the British Army, HMICFRS found.
And during his police service, the force failed to identify that there were questions about his honesty and integrity after several incidents – and when considered together, these incidents “clearly indicated that Horner was not suited to being a police officer”.
During Horner’s police service, the force’s counter-corruption unit received anonymous intelligence from Crimestoppers which suggested that Horner had been chatting online to a 15-year-old girl and had “repeatedly” asked her to send him naked pictures of herself.
The counter-corruption unit made one attempt to contact the person who gave the information to Crimestoppers, but the inspectorate said the unit should have made “repeated and exhaustive attempts” to contact the person within the 14-day period the communication channel remained open.
Supervisors identified that Horner “did not always handle evidence correctly” – an example of this was officers smelling cannabis in the office and finding some in Horner’s work tray, which had been there for three or four weeks.
Another incident involved him taking various items of evidence home in his bag. Horner reported the bag had been stolen from his car, but a member of the public had already reported finding the bag in a river.
Horner failed to disclose all the items that were in his bag when he reported it stolen and when the bag was found and the contents examined, the sergeant asked him to explain the full contents.
The incident was assessed as misconduct, but would “more properly have been assessed as gross misconduct”, which if the subsequent investigation had then concluded that there was a case to answer for gross misconduct, dismissal would have been a potential outcome, the inspectorate said.
At the time of an incident involving Horner pointing his taser at a colleague and activating the red dot laser, he was still the subject of a live written warning for the mishandling of evidence, so the inspectorate believes that the professional standards department should have “without hesitation” assessed the behaviour as gross misconduct, which could have led to a gross misconduct hearing, with a potential outcome of dismissal.
His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary Roy Wilsher said: “Having robust vetting processes is vital for forces in being able to identify any misconduct, dismiss officers and staff if they are not fit for the job and prevent unsuitable officers joining in the first place.
“While we found that Thames Valley Police could not have reasonably anticipated Pc Horner would commit such an abhorrent crime, we found at least five lost opportunities where the force could have taken stricter action against him.
“It is very clear, particularly when considered alongside other incidents which took place during his police service, Pc Horner was not suited to being a police officer.
“We have identified several areas of learning which we encourage the force to address.
“We will revisit the force as part of our rolling programme of inspections in 2024 and will look at their vetting, professional standards and counter-corruption arrangements in more detail.”