Revealed: Sexual assault claims against police officers in Avon and Somerset

Avon and Somerset Police received a dozen allegations of sexual assault against serving officers over the past five years, figures reveal.

<p>A total of 12 complaints of sexual assault were lodged between 2016 and 2020.  </p>

A total of 12 complaints of sexual assault were lodged between 2016 and 2020.

The figures, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, show that 12 complaints of sexual assaults were made against officers between 2016 and 2020.

They related to 15 officer allegations.

Only one led to action being taken against an officer, who was subsequently dismissed from the force.

A further five allegations led to no further action and seven other allegations were not upheld. Meanwhile, two were withdrawn.

Where the gender was recorded, most of the allegations were made against male officers.

The data does not specify if the officers were on or off duty at the time the alleged incidents occurred.

It comes as serving Met police officer Wayne Couzens, who falsely arrested 33-year-old Sarah Everard before kidnapping, raping and murdering her, was handed a rare whole life sentence for his crimes on September 30.

In the wake of the sentencing, Bristol MP Thangam Debonnaire urged men to ‘be allies’ in tackling violence against women by calling out ‘misogynistic attitudes’.

The Bristol West MP told BristolWorld that she felt Avon and Somerset Police had ‘done a great deal over many years’ to improve ‘the criminal justice response to violence against women and girls’.

A woman holds a placard outside the Old Bailey court on the second day of the sentencing of police officer Wayne Couzens for the murder of Sarah Everard. (Photo by DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

“It’s vital for trust that we can expect the police to take robust action whoever the alleged perpetrator is and that includes police officers,” Ms Debonnaire added.

“In the light of recent events I’ve written to the Chief Constable and the Police and Crime Commissioner to ask for an urgent briefing on what they are doing to strengthen their responses and to reassure the public.”

The End Violence Against Women Coalition, which includes groups like Refuge, Rape Crisis and Women’s Aid, said few officers face “any meaningful consequences” for violence against women and girls nationally.

The organisation said the murder of Sarah Everard took place within a broader context of violence perpetrated by the police, adding that trust in forces from women and girls was now ‘at an all-time low’.

Avon and Somerset Police said it ‘fully recognised’ that if the force was to have legitimacy in tackling violence against women and girls, it needed ‘to ensure any such behaviour within our own workforce is not tolerated’.

A spokesperson for the force said: “We are committed to providing the public with the highest standards of service. When the conduct of an officer or member of police staff appears to fall below these high standards, our Professional Standards Department will robustly investigate and if necessary, take action.

“Should an officer or member of police staff be accused of a serious wrongdoing or criminal behaviour then the matter will be referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). The IOPC may decide to direct an investigation or independently investigate and where the evidence meets a criminal threshold, then the Crown Prosecution Service will decide on whether criminal charges are brought.

“We take allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual offences extremely seriously and any officer or staff facing such an accusation is likely to be suspended from duty while an inquiry is carried out or, depending on an assessment of threat, harm and risk, removed from public-facing roles and duties involving gathering evidence.

Flowers surround the Clapham Common bandstand memorial to murdered Sarah Everard (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“If evidence of gross misconduct is found, a hearing may take place chaired by a Legally Qualified Chair who is independent of policing. In the majority of cases, misconduct hearings are held in public but on occasion the LQC may deem it necessary to hold the hearing in private. Regardless, the outcome of the hearing is always published on our website in the interests of transparency.”

The force encourages all members of the public to report incidents of inappropriate behaviour, sexual misconduct or sexual offences to the police whether they involve one of their employees or not.

The spokesperson added: “Similarly, we urge all officers and staff to report incidents of this nature, as well as any other matters which cause them concern to either a senior manager, Human Resources, PSD or via an anonymous confidential phone line.”