Police officers sacked for 'effectively concealing' alleyway strangling

The HQ of Avon And Somerset Police and Avon Fire and Rescue in Portishead -Credit:Copyright Unknown
The HQ of Avon And Somerset Police and Avon Fire and Rescue in Portishead -Credit:Copyright Unknown

Two Avon and Somerset police officers who "effectively concealed" the strangling of a vulnerable woman in a drugs-related robbery in a Bristol alleyway have been sacked without notice. PC James Stone and PC Daniel Sweet committed gross misconduct, a tribunal panel ruled.

The officers neglected their basic policing duties by failing to launch an investigation and acted more like "minicab drivers" in doing nothing but taking the victim back to the hospital where she was an in-patient, the four-day Avon and Somerset police misconduct hearing was told.

The pair were called to the scene of the attack in Drummond Road, St Pauls, in Bristol, at 4.30am on November 11, 2022, but despite the woman telling them she had been strangled and robbed of £280 and a mobile phone by a violent man known to police, they failed to pursue any inquiries.

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It was only when she later reported the assault that an investigation was started and it emerged that the constables had not recorded a crime, taken any notes or marked their bodyworn camera video as containing evidence. Barrister Alan Jenkins, representing the constabulary, said this would have been "a gift for the defence" had the case gone to court, although the victim, a known heroin and cocaine user who was found at the scene wearing only pyjamas and a gown on a cold night, later withdrew her complaint, reports Bristol Live.

PC Stone was criticised for taking 76 days to provide a statement about the incident, despite receiving numerous reminders from the case officer, while PC Sweet took 96 days. Both officers denied any wrongdoing regarding honesty and integrity, duties and responsibilities, and discreditable conduct, but the panel found these allegations proven.

On Monday, May 13, the panel's Legally Qualified Chair, Peter Cadman, who is not affiliated with the police force, announced that the officers had engaged in operational dishonesty. He stated they had "effectively concealed the wrongdoing" of the individual involved in drug dealing and violence against women, particularly a "highly vulnerable victim".

Mr Cadman declared: "Nothing other than dismissal without notice is needed in this case. Anything less than that would be manifestly inadequate."

At the hearing held at the police headquarters in Portishead, PC Sweet acknowledged errors made during the incident but emphasised that he prioritised the immediate welfare of the victim over pursuing crime allegations. He argued that it was not suitable to take her statement on the night due to her drug-induced incoherence, suggesting it should be done at a later time.

However, it was argued in the hearing that he did not put adequate steps in place to ensure this happened. PC Stone contended that he had not heard the woman mention the attack as he was focussed on driving the police car while wearing a radio earpiece.

But, the panel formed the conclusion that PC Stone indeed heard but chose to take no action, and then closed the log without suggesting further action was required. Mr Cadman dismissed as "implausible" the idea that the officer would not have questioned why PC Sweet was examining the woman's neck with his torch if he was unaware she had been strangled.

Mr Cadman stated that the panel found that because PC Stone knew about the offence, he submitted a statement knowing it was untrue. He pointed out there had been no explicit cover-up by the pair but admitted that they had delayed taking action.

High praise for their character came from both Bristol-based officers. Barrister Nick Walker, representing PC Sweet, 31, declared: "This was a brief episode in an extremely promising and valuable service to these communities."

He brought attention to the officer's impeccable police record and surviving "years of misery", details of which were presented to the panel during a private session of the hearing. Mr Walker maintained: "This should have been resolved as a performance issue and not misconduct. This was a welfare-focused officer who got the balance wrong but did it for the right reasons."

Barrister Julian King, representing PC Stone, 32, said: "This was a relatively inexperienced officer who was within his probationary period. There was still a background of care and concern for the woman. He recognises he could and should have done better, but his behaviour does not amount to a breach of the standards of professional behaviour."

He said PC Stone was a compassionate officer. Both lawyers argued the officers should be given final written warnings instead of dismissal.

Afterwards, head of professional standards Detective Superintendent Mark Edgington said: "These officers failed to take action to record and investigate a serious offence against a vulnerable woman. They have then failed to respond in a timely and professional way to requests from colleagues who were investigating the offence of robbery."

"Honesty, integrity and diligence in the exercise of their duties are fundamental requirements for any police officer. The failure of these officers to fulfil what many people would see as the basics of policing recording and investigating a crime are exacerbated by their failure to support their colleague's investigation. There is no place for them in policing."