Police failed to investigate officer abuse complaints, say women

3 weeks ago 17

Police van

By June Kelly and Judith Burns

BBC News

Seven women are accusing Devon and Cornwall Police of failing to investigate serving and former officers for domestic abuse and sexual violence.

In some cases, the men were promoted to specialist roles dealing with violence against women, the group claims.

"I have been failed completely by Devon and Cornwall Police," one woman told BBC News.

The force has referred the allegations to the police watchdog, as the women are preparing legal action.

The women claim the promotions happened despite the force being aware of the complaints against the officers involved.

All the women had relationships with the men they are accusing, none of whom has faced any criminal or disciplinary proceedings.

One of the women is herself a serving Devon and Cornwall officer.

'Systemic misogyny'

Another, who served with the force for 30 years, told BBC News she felt failed by her former employers.

"I've lost all trust and confidence in them. I feel hugely let down, disrespected and insulted," she said.

The allegations span from the late 1990s to the present day, and involve current and former officers.

The women are represented by the Centre for Women's Justice, which is accusing the force of systemic misogyny.

It alleges that, in some cases, the police investigators had a connection with the accused officers.

'Blinkered' investigation

The female former officer says in 2018, after she had left the force, she was physically assaulted by her ex-partner. She claims he also had her in a stranglehold, in view of a neighbour.

She says when the police arrived, they saw she had bruises and scratches, but they dismissed what she and the neighbour said and did not record it as a crime. It emerged that one of the officers knew her ex-partner.

"They were completely blinkered," she said.

"They were purposely looking after him because they knew him. I am lucky that I was a police officer because that is what has driven me to continue with the complaint, because I know categorically that what they were doing is wrong."

She describes the culture in the force as "alpha male and sexist".

Like all those involved, she cannot be named for legal reasons.

A serving Devon and Cornwall Police officer describes reporting her fellow-officer ex-partner to the force a number of times from 2017.

She says he subjected her to physical abuse and coercive control throughout their relationship, including attacking her while she was pregnant in 2004, but she did not report his escalating abuse in the years that followed because she feared it could end her career.

Since the recent complaints against him were made to the force, her ex-partner has been promoted and now has role in a unit dealing with violence against women and girls.

Another woman says in 2018 she called the police after experiencing verbal and psychological abuse from her ex-partner.

She then reported him for racist comments, coercive control, stalking and harassment.

During this time he was also promoted and began working in a sexual offences and domestic violence team.

Not charged

Another woman, a mother of three, says she reported her police officer former husband to the force in 2019.

She accused him of rape, physical violence and coercive control during their relationship and said, when the marriage ended, he continually stalked and harassed her.

Her case was eventually dealt with by a specialist unit set up to improve investigations into rape and serious sexual offences.

She was told there would be no charges.

A woman whose allegations stretch back to the late 1990s says throughout her marriage she was physically and psychologically abused by her husband and, when the marriage ended, he raped her.

She says she reported this to his superior but did not want to go through the courts process at that time.

She claims she was later told, wrongly, there was no record of the rape.

She says her mental health has been badly affected by the way she has been treated by the force, and she has made several attempts to take her own life.

'I can't trust them'

The Centre for Women's Justice (CWJ) claims the force breached the women's human rights by failing to take the complaints seriously and carry out proper investigations.

Debaleena Dasgupta, of the CWJ, who is representing the women, said: "The women's combined testimonies paint a picture of a force not just unable to investigate police-perpetrated domestic abuse, but seemingly unwilling to.

"Police forces, including Devon and Cornwall, have claimed that on the back of falling conviction rates for violence against women and girls, and the worrying number of allegations of police abuse which have come to light following the convictions of Wayne Couzens and David Carrick, things would change.

"This case shows that sadly things have not changed. It is hard to see how public confidence will be restored in policing if this is not robustly addressed."

Assistant Chief Constable Jim Pearce, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said the force had been made aware of information which required careful consideration and appropriate review.

"As a result of the information received, the force has made a mandatory referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct. The IOPC has asked for further work to be progressed by the force before they can accept and assess a referral, but we remain in consultation with them in providing the required information," said ACC Pearce.

"It would be both inappropriate and premature to comment further at this stage."

An IOPC spokesperson said: "We are in liaison with Devon and Cornwall Police to assist them in progressing a valid referral to us regarding these serious matters."

The woman, who spent her entire career as a Devon and Cornwall officer and still lives in the force area, says: "Every time I see a police officer it takes me back. I can't trust them and I can't even look at a police officer without thinking of the way I was treated."

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