MP says system ‘fails women’ after off-duty policeman avoids jail for assault

Richard Vernalls, PA
·5-min read

A male off-duty police officer convicted of drunkenly assaulting a woman has been spared jail, sparking criticism from a leading female MP that the “system fails women and protects men”.

Pc Oliver Banfield, who serves with West Midlands Police, admitted a charge of assault by beating on Emma Homer at an earlier hearing in January, and on Friday he was handed a curfew and ordered to pay compensation and costs at Leicester Magistrates’ Court.

Reacting to the sentence, Labour MP Harriet Harman said on Twitter: “Policeman attacks woman walking home alone after dark.

“Must have been terrifying for her but no prison sentence.

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“He continues in post. @WMPolice (West Midlands Police) must review.

“This is proof, if any needed, that system fails women and protects men.”

Banfield, 25, was given a 14-week curfew banning him from leaving his house between 7pm and 7am, and must pay £500 compensation together with a £95 victim surcharge and £85 court costs.

West Midlands Police said Banfield was “removed from public-facing duties after the assault” while a criminal investigation into the incident in Bidford-on-Avon was carried out by Warwickshire Police.

His employer force said that following the end of the criminal investigation, Banfield was immediately suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary process into an allegation of gross misconduct against the officer.

West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson said it was “right that Oliver Banfield is now facing a gross misconduct investigation and has been suspended”.

He has asked the force’s chief constable, Sir David Thompson, to brief him “on the steps taken by West Midlands Police”.

Meanwhile, the 37-year-old victim, Emma Homer, hit out at Warwickshire Police’s initial handling of her complaint after she was attacked by a “drunk” Banfield while walking home at about 1am on July 26 2020.

She said that despite reporting the assault within hours of it happening, it took “more than 30 hours for an officer to take a telephone statement”, “nine days for an officer to come and see her” and “eight weeks for an officer to conduct house-to-house enquiries”.

In a victim impact statement issued through a relative, Mrs Homer said the effects of the assault had left her with “anxiety, insomnia and stress” which had been “compounded by the slow response from Warwickshire Police”.

The force has since personally apologised to Mrs Homer stating its “initial response to the report of the assault was not as swift as it should have been”.

Mrs Homer added that when the Warwickshire force presented a case file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in September 2020, it was decided not to charge Banfield.

However, aided by the Women’s Justice Centre, Mrs Homer had the CPS’s decision reviewed and the CPS charged Banfield in December 2020.

He admitted assault by beating in court at Leamington Spa in January this year.

Describing the assault, Mrs Homer said: “I often ask myself if the impact of the attack would have been so severe if my assailant was not a police officer.

“During the assault as I struggled to get to safety, I was sure this drunk man was fulfilling a violent cop movie fantasy.

“To be verbally abused with misogynistic slang, grabbed by the neck, and forced to the floor on a dark road by a drunk man a foot taller than me is terrifying, but to then find that he was a police officer shook my belief system to its core.”

She said: “I considered myself a confident, relaxed, and independent wife and mother but since the attack I live with constant anxiety.

“I have changed simple things like my route home, and I have had to ask my family not to discuss the case as it sends me into a panic attack – indeed whenever the subject is brought up I feel a rush of anxiety and a tightening at my throat.”

Chief Superintendent Ben Smith, of Warwickshire Police, said the force recognised “the strength of feeling that has come about as a result of Sarah Everard’s tragic death and understand the concerns relating to violence against women and girls nationally”.

He added the police was “aware of the concerns” around its handling of the case, had carried out a review and “responded to the complainant”.

He said: “We acknowledge that, due to internal process errors, the initial response to the report of the assault was not as swift as it should have been, and an apology has been issued with regards to this.

“A proportionate investigation was then conducted, which ultimately led to the charge and prosecution of the perpetrator.”

West Midlands District Crown Prosecutor Rachel Adams said: “The CPS takes violence against women and girls extremely seriously and will continue to robustly prosecute offences arising from this sort of behaviour.

“I authorised a charge of assault by beating against Oliver Banfield after a referral under the victim’s right to review process, and I have personally engaged with the victim and her family throughout the proceedings.”

Deputy Chief Constable Vanessa Jardine, of West Midlands Police, said: “Oliver Banfield was removed from public-facing police duties after the assault and while the investigation by Warwickshire Police was being carried out.

“To protect the criminal case we’ve not been able to carry out our own misconduct investigation until its conclusion.

“Now sentencing has taken place, our investigation will be carried out and Pc Banfield faces allegations of gross misconduct and is currently suspended.”

She added: “We understand the strength of feeling surrounding the desperately sad death of Sarah Everard and concerns on the issue of women’s safety but it would not be appropriate for us to comment further at this stage.

“Our role is to protect the public, who should be able to trust us. We therefore hold all our officers to the highest standards and we will take appropriate action against anyone whose actions fall below what is expected.”