Revealed: the scale of sexual abuse by police officers

Northumbria police constable Stephen Mitchell, who was jailed for life after admitting charges of rape, indecent assault and misconduct in public office. Photograph: North News & Pictures Exclusive: Guardian investigation finds

sexual predators in police are abusing their power to target victims of crime Sexual predators in the police are abusing their power to target victims of crime they are supposed to be helping, as well as fellow officers and female staff, the Guardian can reveal. n investigation into the scale and extent of the problem suggests sexual misconduct could be more widespread than previously believed. he situation raises questions about the efficacy of the police complaints system, the police's internal whistleblowing procedures, the vetting of officers and a failure to monitor disciplinary offences. Police officers have been convicted or disciplined for a range of offences from rape and sexual assault to misconduct in public office relating to inappropriate sexual behaviour with vulnerable women they have met on duty. Others are awaiting trial for alleged offences, though many are never charged with a criminal offence and are dealt with via internal disciplinary procedures. he problem is to a large extent hidden, as no official statistics are kept and few details are released about internal disciplinary action in such cases. By analysing the data available – including court cases and misconduct proceedings – the Guardian has attempted to document the scale of the corruption for the first time. In the past four years, there were 56 cases involving police officers and a handful of community support officers who either were found to have abused their position to rape, sexually assault or harass women and young people or were investigated over such allegations. he Independent Police Complaints Commission (IP) and the ssociation of hief Police Officers (cpo) are so concerned they are carrying out a rare joint inquiry into the scale of the problem, which will be published in September, the Guardian can reveal. heir work was prompted by the case of the Northumbria police constable Stephen Mitchell, 43, who was jailed for life in January 2011 for carrying out sex attacks on vulnerable women, including prostitutes and heroin addicts, while he was on duty. Despite being the subject of previous disciplinary offences, involving one inappropriate relationship with a woman and the accessing of the force computer to find private details of an individual, Mitchell had not been subjected to extra supervision or dismissed by the force. hose targeted by the officers are predominantly women, but in some cases are children and young people, many of them vulnerable victims of crime. The Guardian's investigation has uncovered evidence of: • Vetting failures, including a concern that vetting procedures may have been relaxed post-2001 during a surge in police recruitment. • Concerns over the recording and monitoring of disciplinary offences as officers progress through their career. • tendency for women who complain they have been sexually attacked by a policeman not to be believed. • pervasive culture of sexism within the police service, which some claim allows abusive behaviour to go unchecked. ebaleena asgupta, a lawyer who has represented women sexually assaulted and raped by police officers, said: "I don't think any victims are quite as damaged as those who are victims of police officers. "he damage is far deeper because they trusted the police and … believed that the police were supposed to protect them from harm and help catch and punish those who perpetrate it. "he breach of that trust has an enormous effect: they feel that if they can't trust a police officer, who can they trust? They lose their confidence in everyone, even those in authority. It is one of the worst crimes that can be committed and when committed by an officer, becomes one of the greatest abuses of power." he officers involved come from all ranks within the service: the most senior officer accused of serious sexual harassment was a deputy chief constable, who was subject to 26 complaints by 13 female police staff. avid insworth, deputy chief constable of Wiltshire police, killed himself last year, an inquest heard this month, during an inquiry into his behaviour. He is one of two officers accused of sexual misconduct to have taken their own lives over the past four years. In one of the worst cases in the past four years, revor Gray, a detective sergeant with Nottinghamshire police, broke into the home of a woman he met on a date and raped her while her young child slept in the house. Gray was jailed for eight years in May for rape, attempted rape and sexual assault. Many of the cases documented involve police officers accessing the police national computer to gain access to the details of vulnerable women and young people in order to bombard them with texts and phone calls and initiate sexual contact.

Deputy Chief onstable Bernard Lawson of Merseyside police, the cpo lead on counter-corruption, who is working with the IP on the joint report, said: "Police officers who abuse their position of trust have an incredibly damaging impact on community confidence in the service. "There is a determination throughout policing to identify and remove those who betray the reputation of the overwhelming majority of officers." In its report on corruption within the police service published last month, the IP identified abuse of authority by officers for their own personal gain, including to engage in sexual intercourse with a vulnerable female while on duty, and the misuse of computer systems to access details of vulnerable females, as two of the five key corruption threats to the service. IP figures show that 15% of the 837 corruption cases referred by forces to the watchdog between 2008 and 2011 involved abuse of authority by a police officer, and 9% involved misuse of systems. Clare Phillipson, director of Wearside Women in Need, who supported some of Mitchell's victims, said: "What you have here is the untouched tip of an iceberg in terms of sexually questionable behaviour and attitudes. he police service, in my experience, has an incredibly macho culture and women are seen as sexual objects. "Police officers have a duty to steer away from vulnerable women in distress, some of whom see these police officers as their saviours. It is an abuse of their power to exploit that." One area to be examined by the IP is whether there might have been vetting failures from 2001 onwards during a massive recruitment drive in the police. Between 2001 and 2007, the overall strength of the service grew by more than 16,000, with around 2,666 officers recruited each year on average. Six years ago, a study of vetting within the police service by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of onstabulary revealed "disturbing" failures that had allowed suspect individuals to join the service. he report, Raising the Standard, exposed more than 40 vetting failures among police officers and support staff. The report concluded: "he potential damage that can be caused by just one failure should not be underestimated." If you were subject to abuse or you know of a friend or relative who was please get in touh in the strictest of confidence. Charles Derham 02392492472

Lisa has specialised in childhood abuse and social care negligence for the last 8 years and has extensive experience in relation to civil abuse litigation, CICA claim maximisation and Redress Scheme claims. She offers a sympathetic and professional approach to her clients’ problems and advises on funding options (including insurance and Conditional Fee Agreements.)

Since 2018 she has travelled around the country to see clients who were failed by Lambeth Council during their childhood in order to collate evidence for submission to the Lambeth Children’s Home Compensation Scheme. Lisa’s style of working is tailored to providing emotional support whilst applying the specialist legal expertise required to ensure her client’s have the best evidence for making a successful claim.

Lisa is able to access key psychiatric and social care experts to obtain evidence and therapy recommendations for clients. She can direct clients to treatment providers if required. Often such treatment costs can be claimed as part of the compensation process. This is a priority to ensure her clients have the best opportunity to make positive steps into the future. Lisa excels in applying questions to psychiatric experts to clarify and ensure they have a deeper understanding of the case issues where required. She is also experienced in negotiation to maximise outcome according to specific scheme terms.

For the last year and half, Lisa has been leading the firm’s participation in the National Abuse Inquiry specifically relating to the IICSA Lambeth investigation acting on behalf of 6 core participants. Such work involved the preparation of core participant applications, section 40 funding applications, detailed consideration of social care record evidence, witness statements preparation, attending preliminary hearings for consideration on the extent of other key party involvement, detailed work on documentary disclosure evidence from the council, police and other core participants to identify deep seated failings within the past care and policing systems, cross referencing, and work with counsel on composing Rule 10 questioning of corporate and police witnesses giving evidence at the IICSA Lambeth hearing. Lisa also accompanied a key core participant giving evidence to the IICSA hearing providing support and understanding to ensure her client’s evidence was sensitively taken into account when the panel make recommendations to protect children in the future. Questions were raised on the effectiveness of the current Serious Case Review system and how this has been operating within police and council’s across the country, something which has also been identified whilst working on specific civil cases. The hope is that improvements in the child protection mechanisms can ensure the safety of children in future.

Lisa also specialises in CICA claims, an area of work which has increased significantly following the lifting of the pre 1979 same home abuse rule which facilitated many victims being able to finally achieve justice relating to serious childhood abuse.

Lisa also has extensive particular experience in running civil claims relating to foster carer abuse, abuse in private/public/approved school institutions, church abuse, and abuse linked to gymnastics.

Her extensive knowledge of the Civil Procedure Rules, skills in evidence gathering and analysis of liability and causation, and experience in risk assessment and settlement negotiation make her a valuable asset to clients and colleagues alike.

Lisa has more than 20 years’ experience of dealing with Personal Injury matters ranging from road traffic accidents to workplace injury and liability.

Lisa is fluent in German and Persian. She also has experience in Civil Litigation regarding Debt Recovery, Breach of Contract, and Insolvency Law

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Lisa studied ‘Contract Law, European Law and Employment Law’ as part of her degree in BA (Hons) Business Administration. She has also studied other business subjects, including accounting.

Having completed her degree, Lisa started work for Verisona Law in November 1999 in the Personal Injury department as a Trainee Litigation Clerk and since then has developed extensive skills in relation to personal injury litigation and case preparation.

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