Police officer had 'unhealthy interest' in prostitutes

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The Independent Online

A police officer who neglected his duties while he indulged in an "unhealthy interest" in prostitutes escaped punishment today.

Robert Bowen, who has now quit his job as a traffic officer with Greater Manchester Police (GMP), ignored an emergency call-out and left his colleagues in the lurch to visit red light districts while he was on duty, Warrington Crown Court heard.

The former Pc, 45, had won three commendations during his 26-year career with the force which was now in tatters, Judge Thomas Teague QC was told.

The judge agreed that Bowen, who admitted one count of misconduct in a public office, had suffered enough and gave him a two year conditional discharge.

Maria Masselis, prosecuting, said the officer's behaviour had aroused the suspicion of colleagues and he was placed under surveillance by GMP's Professional Standards Branch.

Ms Masselis told the judge: "This allegation relates to Bowen's neglect of his duties in favour of an unhealthy interest in sex workers."

Between February and August last year Bowen, who was based at Whitefield Police station, was followed 19 times by undercover officers as he carried out his duties.

Towards the end of the investigation period a patrol car he regularly used was covertly bugged with video and audio recording equipment, Ms Masselis said.

On July 7, as he went out on a solo patrol in the bugged car, surveillance officers watched and listened as Bowen ignored an emergency call out by the force's control room for officers to attend a serious fight at a take away in Manchester city centre.

Ms Masselis said earlier that day a memorial service to former GMP Chief Constable Michael Todd had been held and because of the force's staffing commitments to that event, city centre policing was understaffed that night.

She said: "His duties extended beyond road policing and he was required to attend more serious duties than he was dealing with."

Ms Masselis said the emergency call to the take away, on Bloom Street, was made shortly after 3am.

The prosecutor said it was a Category One incident, requiring immediate response from patrols.

But although Bowen was the nearest available officer - surveillance showed he was in the city's red light district a short distance away - he failed to respond.

In fact, covert listening equipment in the car recorded him saying "What a load of shit" as he received the message on his radio.

Ms Masselis told Judge Teague repeated appeals were made by the GMP control room for officers to attend the Bloom Street fight.

She said Bowen left the red light district and even drove in the direction of the take away but went straight to an area in Cheetham Hill which is also frequented by sex workers.

In the end, she said, the fight was broken up by police officers who had to abandon their own duties and travel from further away.

She said: "They felt let down that a colleague had left them in the lurch.

"They made comments such as it was 'out of order', what he had done."

She said while Bowen's colleagues faced a situation with "potential for harm", he remained in Cheetham Hill until returning to the city centre's red light district some time later.

Bernadette Baxter, defending, said: "Today marks the end of a very sad and difficult period in Robert Bowen's life."

The barrister said it had also been difficult for Bowen's wife, also a GMP officer, who was sat in the public gallery watching proceedings.

She said: "The reality is that this offence represents 28 minutes.

"It was an isolated moment in an exemplary career."

Bowen had received a chief constable's commendation and two chief superintendent's commendations for going over and above the call of duty, Ms Baxter said.

One of the incidents related to a hostage situation which he managed to resolve.

Ms Baxter said he resigned from the force after pleading guilty on November 2 and now stood to miss out on about £160,000 in lost salary and pension contributions.

She added he was attending counselling to deal with "demons which have haunted him for some time".

She told the judge: "He has lost a job that wasn't just a job, it was his career and his life.

"This is a man who will never come before the courts again. He has well and truly learned his lesson and embraced it."

Judge Teague told Bowen: "You clearly received the radio message but what you did was drive away.

"Understandably your former colleagues are disappointed and feel let down.

"Your neglect of your duties on this occasion was not as a result of cowardice but from a disinterest to get involved on a busy shift.

"It was an isolated lapse in a long and, in my view, otherwise exemplary career."

The judge told Bowen he had "suffered more than enough" and gave him a conditional discharge for two years and ordered him to pay £250 in costs.

Three other charges of misconduct in a public office were ordered to lie on file.

The hearing was interrupted briefly when a woman was evicted from the public gallery for abusing Bowen's wife.

In a statement following the hearing, GMP said there was no suggestion Bowen was using any of the sex workers. Detective Inspector Martin Reddington said: "As a result of PC Bowen pleading guilty prior to the trial and further offences being allowed to lie on the file the full extent of his misconduct and the truth of why he neglected his duties to patrol the red light district will never be known. However, what is true and what he was forced to admit was that he had a duty to attend the fight and instead he deliberately ignored the call and drove away from the scene when he was literally just round the corner. This serious neglect of duty could have had devastating consequences, as he potentially put the lives of members of the public at risk and also those of his colleagues who had to rush to the scene from other parts of Manchester, delaying our response and leaving the areas those other patrols were supposed to be looking after vulnerable.

"We take all reports of misconduct and neglect of duties from our officers very seriously and if evidence of criminality is found, we will treat those officers in the same way as we treat anyone else and put them before the courts."