Anti-terror officer admits misconduct

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The Independent Online

A former anti-terrorist officer, who squandered thousands of pounds of taxpayers' cash on sex toys, holidays and clothing, today admitted misconduct in a public office.

Debt-ridden Matthew Washington turned to crime shortly after being issued with a Metropolitan Police credit card meant for work-related expenses.

In September 2009 he was convicted of misconduct and given a six- month sentence, suspended for a year.

He also carried out 120 hours of unpaid work but subsequently appealed against his conviction and a retrial was ordered.

Today, at Southwark Crown Court, as his second trial was about to begin, he changed his mind again and admitted his guilt.

The 38-year-old, who now runs his own property maintenance business after being sacked, was also sentenced today.

The exercise was largely a technical formality, with Judge Martin Beddoe re-imposing the original six-month jail term but suspending it for eight months. There was no additional sentence.

He ordered the defendant to pay the Crown's £4,000 costs for the second prosecution.

But he was powerless to make Washington pay the Crown's costs for his appeal because he won.

The disgraced ex-officer was given the American Express credit card in July 2006 and almost immediately began his spending blitz.

His original trial - built on exactly the same facts as today's hearing - was told that Washington first spent more than £350 on clothes from his "favourite" shop, Next, as well as TM Lewin.

The following month he visited Soho's Harmony adult store and splashed out on "sexual accoutrements" including a sex toy.

As time passed, the divorced father-of-two, who was more than £70,000 in debt, came to regard the Amex card as a "cash cow" and his only source of ready money, the jury heard.

For 15 months the £30,000-a-year detective constable "completely disregarded" police regulations stating that he could use the card only for "travel and subsistence purposes", the original trial was told.

In one 10-day period alone he made 30 illicit purchases.

By the time he was arrested he had effectively billed the taxpayer for an "unauthorised pay rise" of £12,500, £7,000 of which was withdrawn in cash.

He has since paid it all back.

Apart from clothing, the officer used public cash for a Euro Disney family break, spending £2,600 there, as well as other travel, food and personal expenses.

Today, Washington, whose home address can not be given for legal reasons, spoke only to plead guilty.

It was claimed at trial that the free-spending detective's expensive dishonesty was partly due to the "glamour" of life in the anti-terrorist squad fast lane of hotels, foreign travel and "whizzing" around in cars "going to his head".

Washington said he was the victim of an "office culture" that saw the corporate credit cards as personal property, but that he always intended to repay the money.

He insisted his superiors behaved in the same way.

Today, his barrister James Philip Hines said 200 Met officers were contacted for "out of policy use" of their cards.

Forty-eight staff are being investigated, he said, with the Crown Prosecution Service considering further possible criminal charges.

Mr Hines said his client's debts went back many years but debts were exacerbated when his marriage ended, he lost his house and was ordered to pay £600 a month maintenance to his ex-wife and children.

He is also paying £600 a month through a debt management company after agreeing an IVA (individual voluntary arrangement).

Judge Beddoe said that after 16 months of maintaining his innocence Washington had finally "conceded" his guilt.

He told Washington: "You have been through a lengthy ordeal as far as the criminal justice process is concerned.

"But for the most part, the reason for that is you didn't admit that which you should have admitted from the outset, your dishonesty, and the commission of the offence alleged many moons ago against you."

He described the abuse of the card as "quite flagrant".

Washington helped investigate the attempted car bombing outside the Tiger Tiger club in London's Haymarket as well as the attack on Glasgow Airport.