Essex detectives found guilty of sabotaging child abuse investigations
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Essex detective constables Sharon Patterson, 49, and Lee Pollard, 47, have been found guilty at the Old Bailey of sabotaging child abuse investigations.
The couple, who live together in Colchester, both denied misconduct in a public office between 2011 and 2014.
The two officers forged documents, concealed evidence and lied about investigations out of laziness and “cynical disdain” for victims, the Old Bailey heard.
Patterson was even accused of ditching work to get a manicure and have a four-hour-long lunch at a Chinese restaurant with her married lover Pollard.
When she forged a document to shut down one investigation, Pollard described her as his “deceptive partner in crime” in flirtatious emails, jurors heard.
The officers denied wrongdoing, citing administrative chaos at the child abuse unit in north Essex where they both worked.
But prosecutor Alexandra Healy QC said their behaviour went “beyond incompetence” and could not be put down to insufficient manpower or resources.
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Patterson was found guilty of one charge and cleared of a second, while Pollard was convicted of two charges of misconduct.
The jury was discharged from considering one more charge against each defendant, which will lie on court file.
Judge Nigel Lickley QC adjourned sentencing until May 3.
The convictions brought to a close a four-year corruption probe into the Essex Police unit which was undertaken by the nearby Norfolk force and the police watchdog.
Some 30 officers, some now retired, were investigated and 296 Essex child abuse cases looked at, of which 55 were referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
Patterson and Pollard were the only ones to face criminal charges, but a third officer was sacked for gross misconduct last year.
The misconduct came to light in 2014 after a victim complained her signature had been forged - and misspelled - on a statement taken by Patterson.
While the defendant was on long-term sick leave, the case was reassigned and resulted in a conviction in 2015.
Pollard had destroyed four indecent photographs of a complainant in another case while it was still being investigated, the court heard.
But giving evidence, he said: “I believe I would only have destroyed them once a decision had been taken that the investigation was closed.
“Verbal authorisations were given all the time ahead of being written down.
“That happened more and more in the office. The gap between being told verbally and written down got wider and wider.”
In a different instance, Pollard failed to investigate an allegation of sexual touching by a teenager - then lied by claiming no further action was to be taken, on CPS advice.
In September 2015, Pollard was dismissed for gross misconduct.
According to a report at the time, he accessed, copied and then disclosed another officer’s computerised application for a job promotion without the individual’s permission and then disclosed it to another officer who was considering applying for the same post.
It is described as “a deliberate and flagrant breach of honesty and integrity”.
In October last year, Detective Constable Peter Wood, who worked at the same unit was dismissed for gross misconduct for lying during a child abuse case.
A panel found that between June 2013 and August 2014, he failed to take appropriate steps to trace a suspect, he was also found to have made a dishonest entry on a force recording system and lied about a witness not being willing to provide a statement.
After the convictions Busola Johnson, from the CPS, said: “The two officers convicted today showed complete contempt for the positions they held.
“Through a mixture of dishonesty and laziness, Patterson and Pollard chose not to do their jobs to the standards the public is entitled to expect, and then lied repeatedly to cover up their failings.
“The crimes that they committed had the potential to undermine the trust of some of the most vulnerable members of our society.
“Patterson and Pollard had a responsibility to protect the public, and they failed in that duty.”
Essex Police response
Essex Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet said: “Nothing is more important than protecting children.
“Today’s trial has highlighted that between 2011 and 2014 we let a number of victims and their families down.
“Those victims had suffered child abuse, one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
“At the conclusion of these court proceedings, on behalf of the force, I would like to reiterate our apologies to those affected – we are sorry.”
“As soon as we identified concerns we acted swiftly to ensure affected investigations were promptly reviewed and, where possible, perpetrators brought to justice.
“We referred ourselves to the IPCC (now the IOPC), supported those investigations fully, ensuring that where wrongdoing was found, swift and appropriate action was taken.
“My commitment to those affected, and the wider public, is that since this came to light, Essex Police has improved greatly in the way we investigate these complex crimes.
“We are not complacent and we will continue to review how we are doing and strive to improve for victims and their families”.
“We will continue to invest in the training and support for our officers and staff the overwhelming majority of whom do a fantastic and difficult job with skill, determination and compassion and bring the very worst and most dangerous offenders in our community to justice.”
DC Patterson will now be subject to consideration for internal gross misconduct proceedings by Essex Police.
Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, said: “I wholeheartedly echo the statements of Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet that nothing is more important than protecting children.
“Victims are at the heart of what we do and for these two officers, it is clear that this was not the case.
“As Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex it is my job to hold Essex Police to account on behalf of the people of Essex. I scrutinise the Force and its performance.
“I am confident that the procedures in place and the increased investment to improving the Child Abuse Investigation Teams means that the force has improved greatly, with efforts being recognised by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services.
“This year we have provided funding which will enable the force to recruit an additional 215 officers on top of the 150 recruited following the 2018/2019 budget.
“This will mean an extra 20 officers for the Crime and Public Protection Command, which investigates child abuse.
“However, we must not be complacent and we must ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society are never let down in this way again.”