VULNERABLE PEOPLE must be protected from abuse by those in a position of power, the chairman of a police misconduct panel has said while dismissing an officer who sent sexual messages to a 14-year-old girl living in a children’s home.
Geoffrey Payne said there was “considerable local and national concern about sexual misconduct and abuse of power at present”, saying this was an aggravating factor in the gross misconduct of West Yorkshire Police officer PC Ian Bell.
Married PC Bell, 46, abused his position to send sexual messages to the girl, whom he had met the previous day while investigating the disappearance of another young resident of the home, the two-day misconduct hearing was told.
His messages included a reference to having seen her wearing only a towel and questions about whether she took drugs and liked sex.
He ended the conversation by asking her to ‘please delete everything’ and she raised the alarm with staff.
PC Bell admitted being very drunk at the time and searching out the girl’s details online after his wife had gone to bed, but denied having a sexual motive.
Mr Payne said his three-person panel disagreed and had found that his motivation was “sexual gratification”.
He said they had “no hesitation” in finding that PC Bell’s actions amounted to gross misconduct, and would have come to the same conclusion even if they had not found a sexual motive.
He said: “Police officers are required to safeguard vulnerable people from harm, not expose them to it, or the risk of it.”
He said the girl was someone who was entitled to look to the police for protection and reassurance, adding: “It is obvious, therefore, that this case gives rise to real damage to public confidence in the police.”
PC Bell, who was based in the Wakefield district, had garnered numerous awards and commendations in his hitherto “unblemished” 23 years with the force, his legal representative Adam Birkby said, including a certificate of merit in 1999 for apprehending a knife-wielding offender.
Mr Birkby had suggested that PC Bell could stay in the force in a non-public-facing role and that there was a position available for him in its Control Room in Wakefield.
Mr Payne said his panel rejected this suggestion, saying dismissal without notice was the only outcome that would “protect the public and maintain public confidence in the police”.
Mr Payne said PC Bell’s distinguished career had been a mitigating factor, but listed a number of aggravating factors, including the vulnerability and age of the girl.
Another aggravating factor was PC Bell’s request for her to delete the messages, as well as his decision to contact her using the social media site Snapchat, in which messages are automatically deleted after a short time.
Giving evidence earlier in the hearing, PC Bell had admitted his actions had been inappropriate, saying: “I let the force down and I let myself down.”
PC Bell had been arrested over the matter, the hearing was told.
After the hearing, a spokeswoman for West Yorkshire Police said the Crown Prosecution Service had decided not to prosecute him.