Woman ‘harassed’ by officers filmed on her doorstep – BBC News

  • By Noel Titheradge
  • Investigative correspondent

video caption,

“I filmed police officers harassing me”

Police forces thwarted vulnerable women who said they had been sexually exploited by officers, the BBC has learned.

One woman said a detective pursued a sexual relationship in text and repeatedly visited her home.

Evidence was removed in an “unsuccessful” investigation and out of 500 allegations of officers abusing their office, only 24 were prosecuted, according to BBC data.

The Home Office said it was taking action to root out the predator officers.

Police sexual misconduct is in the spotlight like never before after the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by officer Wayne Couzens, and the revelations of serial rapist David Carrick.

Now the BBC has learned that individual troops fail vulnerable women in “failed” or pending investigations that take years to complete and rarely lead to disciplinary offenses or criminal charges.

Women were let down by troops whose officers had “preyed on” them, said Dame Vera Baird, a former victims commissioner.

“There cannot be a greater breach of trust and confidence.”

Interviews with former cops and women, leaked documents, and responses to freedom of information requests reveal:

  • One woman was repeatedly sent messages asking for sex – one requesting “no emotion, just laughs, likes and lots of love”
  • The cases the BBC is investigating involve women known to be victims of rape and domestic violence and an adult who was sexually abused as a child
  • One officer faced 20 separate charges, while another who faced nine counts was only given a final written warning
  • One force deleted footage of a woman claiming an inspector had raped her, while another failed to prevent a rape detective’s cellphone from being wiped after his arrest over claims he had sex with multiple victims.

‘Powerless’

Charlotte Smith, 28, said she had been stalked and harassed by a Warwickshire police officer for two and a half years.

She first met Det Sgt Paul Whitehurst when she was young, who police recognized as a potential victim of the treatment.

Years later, she ran into Whitehurst at a bar, at which time she was facing an ongoing legal battle with a former partner. He said he then continued to have sexual relations with her in WhatsApp messages seen by the BBC.

“I want to spend the night with you, in a real bedroom, hotel, whatever,” read one message from the clerk.

Caption,

One of the messages sent to Charlotte by Whitehurst

After a relationship that lasted several months, Charlotte complained to the police in September 2020 about his behavior.

The officer then began visiting his home without invitation, though Charlotte made further complaints to the troop and sent him messages asking not to be disturbed.

One visit was recorded with a doorbell camera. Det Sgt Whitehurst was seen standing outside Charlotte’s home at 10:45 pm, repeatedly pressing her doorbell.

Charlotte said she called Warwickshire Police while hiding under the covers of her bed, but it took officers 45 minutes to get to her house, and they did not take a statement.

“There was no urgency,” he said, despite having been told there had been a “red flag” placed at his address after an earlier visit.

Caption,

Doorbell camera footage from Det Sgt Whitehurst outside Charlotte Smith’s house (lines in the foreground are cobwebs)

Whitehurst – who is 20 years older than Charlotte – was suspended last year. The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) recommended 18 months ago that he face a capital offenses hearing, but this has yet to happen.

Charlotte said two and a half years of constant abuse – despite her many complaints – left her feeling powerless.

“He works in the anti-corruption and professional standards department [PSD]it’s where you complain – so what hope do you have?” he said.

In a phone call with the BBC, Whitehurst denied abusing his position for sexual purposes and said he did not find Charlotte vulnerable the next time he saw her.

He said the WhatsApp messages seen by the BBC were not “familiar” to him and the visit to Charlotte’s home was made out of concern.

Warwickshire Police said the allegations were “very serious” but could not say what steps had been taken to protect Charlotte, as the investigation was ongoing. This, he said, must be resolved before a serious offenses hearing.

All forces have their own internal professional standards team which conducts investigations into officer misconduct – although cases may occasionally be carried out by the IOPC.

But BBC News has learned of important deleted evidence related to the officer being investigated by their PSD.

One woman – a victim of child sexual abuse with complex mental health problems – told Bedfordshire Police officers that she had been raped by an inspector.

Her claim was recorded on video worn by police during two separate visits to her home.

The BBC is aware that the recordings of both visits were later deleted. On one of these occasions, the inspector accused by the woman was in charge of the control room handling calls.

Caption,

Dame Vera Baird: “There cannot be a greater breach of trust and confidence”

Officers have always denied the allegations of rape. He initially said his relationship with the woman was platonic before later admitting they had sex. Investigators found that a police radio GPS linked him to his home. Allegations that the inspector had previously sent racist messages also came to light as part of the investigation.

Bedfordshire Police said the removal of the tape was an “administrative error” and that an interview with the woman was conducted in response – however, an expert said this would have a different value as evidence.

Troops have paid a substantial settlement to the woman without making a confession or apologizing to her. The inspector was investigated for misconduct but faced no sanctions and continued to work for the troop.

The BBC was also told that the Metropolitan Police had “ruined” an investigation into a detective inspector accused of having sex with multiple rape victims.

Four of the women reported that the lead officer on the rape investigation team had had sex with them. All had previously been reported as victims of rape or sexual violence.

Two former members of the Met’s professional standards team said forensic best practices were not followed, and the officer’s phone was remotely wiped by someone following his arrest.

Since then, the detective inspector was dismissed from the force on other charges.

image source, Getty’s image

Caption,

New Scotland Yard in central London – Metropolitan Police Headquarters

The Metropolitan Police declined to comment on the claims but said there were “issues to be resolved” in relation to the officer – several years after first suspending him. It also declined to say whether it had reinvestigated all the rape cases it handled. The Crown Prosecutor’s Service concluded there was insufficient evidence to charge him.

The BBC has received responses to requests for information from 32 police officers in England, Wales and Scotland about allegations of “abuse of position for sexual purposes”.

The claims cover the last five years, although some powers can only provide figures from 2020 – when the complaint categories are simplified.

We found that 536 charges had been filed – but only 24 officers were criminally charged.

The figures also show that individual officers have faced as many as 20 charges – while one facing nine was only given a final written warning. Troops are also far less likely to enforce complaints than IOPC.

Women are being “preyed upon by officers [who] they have asked to help them in times of distress”, according to Dame Vera Baird, former victims commissioner and former public attorney.

He said changes must be immediate – and environmental forces should be asked to investigate all complaints of officer sexual misconduct.

“Complaints must be submitted to other forces and not done internally,” he said. “Who oversees the police professional standards department?”

Caption,

Baroness Casey led a review of the Met that found it institutionally misogynistic

The IOPC said it has oversight of the police complaints system but the onus lies in their own power to root out any abuse of office which it described as “serious corruption”.

The National Police Chiefs Council said the BBC’s findings strengthened the work it was doing “to lift stones and root out wrongdoers”.

Baroness Casey led a review of the Met that found it institutionally misogynistic. He does not accept that enough is being done.

“It’s appalling that you have a very serious case of sexual allegations against a police officer going on for so many years,” he said.

“[Officers] think they’re untouchable and frankly, they are. That’s what’s really scary.”

In a statement, the crime and police minister, Chris Philp MP, said a “zero tolerance approach” to officer harassment was needed.

He said the Interior Ministry acted to ensure “predatory individuals” were prevented from joining in the first place and was reviewing the current police dismissal process.

Mr Philp added that a recent review of police checks by inspectors had recognized progress was being made and troops were proactively checking serving officers.

In November 2022, an earlier report by the same agency – the Inspectorate of Police and Her Majesty’s Fire & Rescue Services – also found that “in many places, a culture of misogyny, sexism, and predatory behavior towards members of the public and female police officers and staff persists.”

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