Police chief jury asked 'Who's the liar here?'

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The Independent Online

A deputy chief constable told a court yesterday he never used his position of authority to "push his luck" and sexually molest two women in his office at Surrey Police headquarters.

A deputy chief constable told a court yesterday he never used his position of authority to "push his luck" and sexually molest two women in his office at Surrey Police headquarters.

During cross-examination, Ian Beckett, 54, said he had no idea why the two civilian police workers, who, he agreed, had "no axes to grind", should accuse him of four sexual assaults.

In the most serious case, he is accused of putting his hand into a married woman's underwear and fondling her, ignoring her repeated pleas for him to stop.

In closing the case for the prosecution, Sallie Bennett-Jenkins told the two women and 10 men on the jury they would have to decide who was lying. "There is no getting away from it. Somebody is ... Is it these two ladies? Why? What is there in it for them? You might think absolutely nothing at all.

"Or is it Mr Beckett who is lying? What is in it for him to lie and say it never happened?

"The answer is this - he then evades his responsibility for unpleasant, humiliating and degrading assaults on subordinates who were under his control."

She went on: "This is a case perhaps which exposes two sides of human frailties. Either the ladies are complete liars, manipulative, who for some reason which no one can fathom, made all of this up, or Mr Beckett is not all that he seems.

"He is undoubtedly a high-flying police officer, undoubtedly a first-rate individual within the police force, but was he a subject to human frailty on these days?

"Did he decide to take advantage of his position, his authority, as a forceful character to intimidate and humiliate two women and subject them to quite appalling behaviour?"

Mr Beckett, is said to have turned off the lights and hugged one woman, and fondled the other during December 1998 at the police headquarters in Guildford, Surrey. He denies all the charges.

During a rapid exchange at Southwark Crown Court in London, Ms Bennett-Jenkins asked the officer: "These two women have no axes to grind against you?"

"Not that I know of," he replied. Counsel: "They have never made any complaint before against you?" Mr Beckett: "Not that I know of."

Asked what he thought lay behind the allegations made against him he said: "I really don't know what is behind it. I wish I did."

The women, known only as Miss X and Miss Y because they cannot be named for legal reasons, have told the jury in detail about their alleged suffering. Miss Y said Mr Beckett kissed her on the lips and put a hand on one of her breasts.

Mr Beckett denied he had wrongly portrayed Miss X as a liar when initially interviewed about the matters, and was later accused of having made the woman "quite terrified" of him.

Turning to his other alleged victim, Ms Bennett-Jenkins alleged: "It was another time, Mr Beckett, when you thought you could push your luck."

When he first went into the witness box, the senior officer, in a smart charcoal grey suit, told the court how he had risen through the ranks during a 35-year career. The court heard from three character witnesses, including Elizabeth Neville, the Chief Constable of Wiltshire, who said she had known Mr Beckett for 18 years and worked with him at Scotland Yard when they were inspectors.

"He is a very energetic man, a very clever man, a forceful individual with very high professional standards and high standards of integrity," she said.

Roy Amlot QC, defence counsel, directed the jury towards what he called "huge and glaring holes" in the accounts of the alleged events made by the two women. The court was told no previous complaint had been lodged against Mr Beckett since he joined the police in 1965.

The case was adjourned until today when the jury will consider its verdict.