Essex Police has apologised to victims after two rogue police officers were convicted of sabotaging child abuse investigations.
Detective constables Sharon Patterson, 49, and Lee Pollard, 47, 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 pair 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.
The couple, who live together in Colchester, Essex, denied misconduct in a public office each between 2011 and 2014.
Patterson was found guilty of one charge and cleared of a second, while Pollard was convicted of two charges of misconduct.
Following today’s verdict, Essex Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet issued an apology saying the force let victims and their families down.
He 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.”
He said the force “acted swiftly” as soon as concerns were identified and investigations were reviewed and, where possible, perpetrators brought to justice.
He said: “The individual failings, and ultimately my organisation’s responsibility therefore, is something that really did shock the organisation.
“We took immediate steps to improve the way we were looking after these complex and vulnerable victims.”
The convictions bring to a close a four-year corruption probe into the Essex Police unit by the neighbouring 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).
The defendants were the only ones to face criminal charges, but a third officer was sacked for gross misconduct last year, it can now be reported.
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 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 another 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.
Judge Nigel Lickley QC adjourned sentencing until May 3.
It can now be reported that in September 2015, Pollard was dismissed for gross misconduct.
According to a report at the time, he accessed, copied and 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 was described as “a deliberate and flagrant breach of honesty and integrity”.
Following the conclusion of the trial, Patterson will be subject to consideration for internal gross misconduct proceedings.
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.
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 said 30 officers were subject to investigation and of those, eight were subject to management action and seven officers were found to have no case to answer.
Five officers attended a formal misconduct meeting and of those, three were found to be proven and two were not proven. Five officers retired or resigned when the investigation began.
Five officers were found to have a case to answer for gross misconduct, of those, two left the force prior to action being taken, one officer was dismissed and two were found to have criminal cases to answer.
The 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 2018/19 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.”
One of the convicted officers has already been dismissed for “other unrelated matters” and the other is suspended from duty and will now face internal gross misconduct proceedings, according to Mr Prophet.
He said: “On a personal level it strikes at your core as a police officer.
“I am a dad. I have two children. I come to work and my colleagues come to work to help people, to protect the vulnerable and catch those who break the law.
“Quite clearly, when we identified that on occasions we were not always getting that right – that was really impactful on my organisation.
“That is why we had a root-and-branch review to transform how we protect and investigate in these really complex cases.
“The public can, in my point of view, be confident that my organisation now is very different to where it was five years ago.”
He said internal reviews had identified “concerns” at one of the force’s specialist investigation centres.
He said: “Some of our investigative officers were not thoroughly and effectively investigating some allegations of child sexual abuse.”
It found that some supervisors were not following the right processes in terms of supporting and directing those investigations and managing workloads between individuals and teams.
It also found that some frontline officers and staff when they were responding did not always identify risk and vulnerability and make proper referrals.
Mr Prophet said “immediate action” was taken to tackle the problems, including more specialist training, more support and clearer guidance for supervisors.
He said the “concerns” that were uncovered “related to 55 separate allegations of crime and within those 55 allegations there were 59 victims and there were 30 officers who were the subject of misconduct consideration”.
He said: “A number were found to have no case to answer, a number were given very clear management advice, a number of those officers were the subject of a misconduct investigation and formal outcome.
“A small number, as exemplified by the outcome at the Old Bailey today, were the subject of gross misconduct and/or a criminal investigation.”