Prisoners 'assaulted and raped by police sergeant'

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A police sergeant abused his position of power to carry out a string of sexual assaults, including two rapes, on female prisoners in his care and women he met while on duty, a court was told yesterday.

A police sergeant abused his position of power to carry out a string of sexual assaults, including two rapes, on female prisoners in his care and women he met while on duty, a court was told yesterday.

A jury at Nottingham Crown Court was told that Paul Banfield, 32, deliberately targeted "vulnerable" women detained while he was custody sergeant at a Cambridge police station - using his role to gain access to their cells and carry out indecent assaults on two women and the rape of another while out of sight of security cameras.

The officer was also reported to have taken the address of a burglary victim and used it hours later to break into her home and rape her in her bed.

The sergeant, who described himself to one of his victims as "lonely", tried to approach the women after the attacks, telling them he would see them again and warning one prisoner he allegedly raped that if she complained, things would be worse for her.

Roy Amlot QC, for the prosecution, said Sgt Banfield, who has already admitted sexually assaulting two women in the cells of Parkside police station, Cambridge, had systematically carried out the cell attacks over 15 days in September and October.

The court was told that the sergeant would use his duties as an excuse to visit prisoners in their cells, often complimenting the women on how attractive they were, before kissing and fondling two of them and raping a third.

Mr Amlot said: "We are talking about a series of three incidents within a relatively short period of time where the Crown says he behaved in much the same fashion, taking advantage, in his position of authority, of vulnerable female prisoners in the cells at his police station."

Sgt Banfield, also accused of attacking two women in their homes between September 1998 and last August, denies two counts of rape, one of burglary with intent to commit rape and one of indecent assault.

The jury of eight men and four women was told that his string of attacks began when a 45-year-old divorcée, Miss B, approached him on a night out in Cambridge while he sat in uniform in a marked police van. When Miss B complained to the sergeant that she had been burgled a few months earlier, he asked her for her home address which she gave him as part of a "jovial" conversation, the court was told.

The woman, who said she had been drinking lager all evening, returned to her home a few miles from the city, at 3am on 13 September last year and fell asleep in front of her television after wrapping herself in a duvet.

Sgt Banfield drove to her home and climbed through an unlocked downstairs window, it was claimed. Miss B, her voice cracking with emotion, told the court: "I fell asleep and the next thing I remember is being face down on my bed. Someone was on top of me. It was like I wasn't really there, as if I was in a dream.

"It wasn't very long, he got off me and put his uniform on. I heard a police radio come on and he walked downstairs and I followed. He said nothing throughout. I just opened both doors and he went."

The divorcée later met a female officer from Cambridgeshire police to tell her about the attack after approaching friends, but did not make a formal complaint until October last year. Mr Amlot added: "She felt strongly at the time [of the attack] that she was not strong enough to take on the police force and that she would not be believed."

Sgt Banfield, who claims that he had consensual sex with Miss B after she gave him her address and invited him around for coffee on the night of the attack, allegedly again visited his victim's home one night three weeks afterwards but was told to go away. Under cross-examination, Miss B confirmed that she had been signed off sick from work in September 1998 and was taking medication for stress at the time.

The alleged attacks by the sergeant, who was switched from patrol duties to supervising the Parkside custody suite in July, culminated on 9 October last year when a 26-year-old woman was arrested for breach of bail after she had visited her boyfriend at the station.

The court was told that Sgt Banfield visited the cell of the woman, Miss A, throughout the evening and on one occasion brought a white disposable suit for her to change into ahead of a court appearance. He made lewd remarks and asked her to remove her underwear as he handed over the garment, it was claimed.

He returned to the cell where she was being held at 10.30pm and fondled then raped her. Mr Amlot said: "He left the cell saying he was back on duty the next day and that she was not to tell anyone otherwise he would lose his job and it would make things a lot worse for her."

The jury was told that Sgt Banfield's admission of indecently assaulting two further victims - Miss D and Miss F - in the two weeks before the rape of Miss A proved a pattern to his activities. Miss F, 20, arrested on suspicion of shoplifting on 24 September last year, was kissed by Sgt Banfield before he lay on her. It was said that he only moved after fearing he was about to be disturbed. He again assaulted her at her home in front of her sister in the days after the original attack.

Miss D, 24, was assaulted in her cell at Parkside 10 days later after being arrested.The sergeant, who admitted two counts of indecent assault against Miss F and one against Miss D, claims that the women had initiated the encounters, trying to hug and kiss him in the cells.

The court was told the only victim that the sergeant did not meet through his duties was a worker for the Crown Prosecution Service, who was allegedly attacked last August.

The case, scheduled to last up to four weeks, continues.