Policeman convicted of sex attacks

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The Independent Online

A police constable who preyed on vulnerable women he met while on duty was facing jail today after he was convicted of rape and indecent assault.

Pc Stephen Mitchell, of Northumbria Police, had denied all the charges against him, claiming the 16 women who made complaints about his behaviour were liars.

Mitchell, 42, was cleared on Friday of three counts of rape, two indecent assaults and two counts of misconduct in a public office.

But the jury of six men and six women at Newcastle Crown Court convicted him of two charges of rape and three indecent assaults today on its fifth day of deliberations.

He was found guilty yesterday of six counts of misconduct in a public office but cleared of seven other counts of misconduct and one of assault.

During a five-week trial, the prosecution said Mitchell preyed on women including drug addicts and shoplifters by offering them help while in custody at Pilgrim Street police station in Newcastle city centre, then demanding sexual favours afterwards.

He had a hold over one woman for three and a half years, even trying to keep her on heroin after she had quit, which only ended when she went into hiding after he raped her in handcuffs at her home.

The woman, in her 30s and now a postgraduate after years of being clean of drugs, said the officer even provided her with money when she was trying to quit heroin to buy the drug in a bid to keep her dependent on it.

Another woman, now in her 30s, was locked in a patrol car and raped after she was arrested for theft.

Mitchell had promised the woman, who was addicted to heroin, he would help her regain custody of her children in return for favours.

Others were flattered then propositioned while still in custody with a view to beginning sexual relations later.

He paid one £20 for sex after arresting the 27-year-old heroin addict on suspicion of shoplifting.

He told another, a 21-year-old heroin addict: "You see what you do to us," and groped her while sat in a patrol car in Newcastle.

Mitchell claimed the women colluded against him after a rumour which he said had been made up by one claimant was picked up by others in a close-knit criminal fraternity.

The officer, from Glasgow, claimed: "These people will grab any opportunity they can."

Mitchell, who was being sentenced this afternoon, stood motionless and stared straight ahead as the jury's verdicts were read out.

Each of today's guilty verdicts was found by a majority of ten to two jurors, after 23 hours and 23 minutes deliberation.

Mitchell's case raises questions over how Northumbria Police monitored its own officers and kept vulnerable suspects safe.

Mitchell was able to become a police officer despite being accused of a serious sexual offence before applying to join.

And there was even an accusation by the defence - denied by the prosecution - that after he came under suspicion, Mitchell was offered the chance to resign and have the investigation dropped.

During his trial, it emerged that the force punished him when it was discovered he had sex with a woman he had met as part of his duties. But Mitchell was not fired.

A year earlier, he was also disciplined for looking up his wife's new friends on the force computer after the couple had separated. He was fined three days wages.

Mitchell was also accused of a serious sexual offence while he was still in the Army.

The case went to court in Edinbugh but was not put before a jury and he was never convicted.

It is not known if Mitchell revealed this when he applied to join Northumbria Police.

Trial judge Mr Justice Wilkie later postponed sentencing Mitchell until January 11.

He said he wanted to see psychiatric and sex offender reports before passing sentence but told the court he was considering an indeterminate sentence for public protection.

He praised the police for the "patient and professional way in which they investigated the case and coaxed these very damaged women to give their evidence in court".

The judge added: "It's of the highest importance that when such people do make complaints of ill-treatment which are well-founded that they are taken seriously and properly investigated."

A Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) spokesman paid tribute to Mitchell's victims. Kingsley Hyland, head of the CPS north east complex casework unit, said: "Stephen Mitchell was a sexual predator who abused his position as a police officer to target vulnerable women for his own sexual gratification.

"I would like to pay tribute to Mitchell's victims, without whose courage in coming forward to give evidence and to relive experiences which they must have strived hard to put behind them, this case could not have been brought."

At a press conference temporary detective chief constable Jim Campbell said Mitchell was an "evil and manipulative" man.

He said: "The public quite rightly expects the officers and staff of Northumbria Police to adhere to the highest possible standards of professional conduct and place the highest trust in them.

"Mitchell let down the public and Mitchell let down his colleagues.

"There is no place in the police service for such evil and manipulative behaviour.

"His actions are even more despicable because the public place trust in the police and he deliberately chose to abuse those who were the most vulnerable."

He said Mitchell's case would be heard before a police disciplinary panel and that he would probably be sacked.

He said the Northumbria Police counter corruption unit had been improved since the investigation begun.

Mr Campbell said the force did not know about Mitchell's previous offending. Mitchell lied on his application to the force by not revealing his arrest and prosecution in Edinburgh for a serious sexual offence.

He said: "Had we been aware of his arrests or prosecution, he would never have been allowed to join Northumbria Police."

The case had done "horrendous" damage to the force's reputation, he said.

"He is not typical of any police officer in Northumbria Police or elsewhere in the country.

"He should never have got in the police in the first place."

Detective Chief Inspector Chris Sharman, who led the investigation, said Mitchell was able to escape detection for so long because he was cunning and because of the victims he chose.

He said: "It is quite typical of a sex offender to be very devious and calculating.

"They tend not to share information with other people and can be quite devious.

"He is all these things and is a very evil, clever man.

"That has helped him stay under the radar for so long."

He said Mitchell had remained emotionless and remorseless during police interviews.

Det Chief Insp Sharman categorically denied Mitchell was offered a monopoly-style "get out of jail card" deal to quit the force in return for an end to the investigation.