Police officer who attacked woman in street spared jail and fined £500

Off-duty probationary officer suspended and faces gross misconduct investigation after sentencing

Jane Dalton
Saturday 20 March 2021 11:51 GMT
CCTV shows moment serving police officer violently assaulted woman as she walked home

An off-duty police officer convicted of drunkenly assaulting a woman has been spared prison, sparking criticism from an MP that the “system fails women and protects men”.

PC Oliver Banfield, of West Midlands Police, put Emma Homer in a headlock and unleashed a tirade of “misogynistic” verbal abuse, Leicester Magistrates’ Court heard.

He admitted assault by beating in January, and on Friday was handed a curfew and told to pay £500 in compensation. He was initially allowed to continue working, but after the court case was suspended from his job pending gross misconduct proceedings.

His sentencing comes as the conduct of police is under intense scrutiny following the death of Sarah Everard, who is alleged to have been murdered by a Metropolitan Police officer.

Ms Homer, 37, was walking home alone in a village in Warwickshire after an evening out with friends when Banfield attacked, yards from her door.

The probationary officer used techniques taught during his police training to try to tackle her to the ground.

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CCTV footage of the attack, obtained by Channel 4 News, showed how he put her in a headlock and dragged her across the pavement, yelling: “On the floor now, on the floor now.”

A woman, reported to be his partner, is heard in the clip trying to stop the attack.

Ms Homer said: “He started shouting, ‘Why are you following me?’ He repeatedly tried to get me on the floor. It was like he was pretending to be in a cop film, calling for back-up, how an officer would arrest somebody, like he was in a film.

“He got me on the floor, round the neck, screaming and shouting aggressively.”

Banfield, 25, was given a 14-week curfew banning him from leaving his house between 7pm and 7am, and must pay £500 compensation, together with a £95 victim surcharge and £85 court costs.

Labour MP Harriet Harman tweeted: “Policeman attacks woman walking home alone after dark. Must have been terrifying for her but no prison sentence. He continues in post.”

“This is proof, if any needed, that system fails women and protects men.”

She urged West Midlands Police to review the case.

The force said Banfield was “removed from public-facing duties after the assault” while Warwickshire Police carried out a criminal investigation into the attack.

His employer force said that after the criminal investigation, he was immediately suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary process over an allegation of gross misconduct.

West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson said it was right that Banfield was facing a gross misconduct investigation and had been suspended.

He has asked the force’s chief constable, Sir David Thompson, to brief him “on the steps taken by West Midlands Police”.

Homer hit out at Warwickshire Police’s initial handling of her complaint after she was attacked while walking home at about 1am on 26 July.

She said that despite reporting the assault within hours, it took more than 30 hours for an officer to take a telephone statement, nine days for an officer to come and see her and eight weeks for an officer to conduct house-to-house enquiries.

IMs Homer said the effects of the assault had left her with anxiety, insomnia and stress, which had been “compounded by the slow response from Warwickshire Police”.

The force has since apologised to her, stating its “initial response to the report of the assault was not as swift as it should have been”.

Mrs Homer added that when the Warwickshire force presented a case file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in September, it was decided not to charge Banfield.

However, aided by the Centre for Women’s Justice, Ms Homer had the CPS’s decision reviewed, and prosecutors charged him in December.

He admitted assault by beating in court at Leamington Spa.

Ms Homer said: “I often ask myself if the impact of the attack would have been so severe if my assailant was not a police officer.

“During the assault, as I struggled to get to safety, I was sure this drunk man was fulfilling a violent cop movie fantasy.

“To be verbally abused with misogynistic slang, grabbed by the neck, and forced to the floor on a dark road by a drunk man a foot taller than me is terrifying, but to then find that he was a police officer shook my belief system to its core.”

She said: “I considered myself a confident, relaxed, and independent wife and mother but since the attack I live with constant anxiety.

“I have changed simple things like my route home, and I have had to ask my family not to discuss the case as it sends me into a panic attack – indeed whenever the subject is brought up I feel a rush of anxiety and a tightening at my throat.”

Chief Superintendent Ben Smith, of Warwickshire Police, said the force recognised “the strength of feeling that has come about as a result of Sarah Everard’s tragic death and understand the concerns relating to violence against women and girls nationally”.

He added the police was aware of the concerns around its handling of the case, had carried out a review and responded to the complainant.

He said: “We acknowledge that, due to internal process errors, the initial response to the report of the assault was not as swift as it should have been, and an apology has been issued with regards to this.

“A proportionate investigation was then conducted, which ultimately led to the charge and prosecution of the perpetrator.”

West Midlands District Crown Prosecutor Rachel Adams said: “The CPS takes violence against women and girls extremely seriously and will continue to robustly prosecute offences arising from this sort of behaviour.

“I authorised a charge of assault by beating against Oliver Banfield after a referral under the victim’s right to review process, and I have personally engaged with the victim and her family throughout the proceedings.”

Deputy Chief Constable Vanessa Jardine, of West Midlands Police, said: “Oliver Banfield was removed from public-facing police duties after the assault and while the investigation by Warwickshire Police was being carried out.

“To protect the criminal case, we’ve not been able to carry out our own misconduct investigation until its conclusion.

“Now sentencing has taken place, our investigation will be carried out, and PC Banfield faces allegations of gross misconduct and is currently suspended.”

She added: “We understand the strength of feeling surrounding the desperately sad death of Sarah Everard and concerns on the issue of women’s safety but it would not be appropriate for us to comment further at this stage.

“Our role is to protect the public, who should be able to trust us. We therefore hold all our officers to the highest standards and we will take appropriate action against anyone whose actions fall below what is expected.”

The Centre for Women’s Justice says it has issued a “super-complaint” against police on behalf of 46 women who felt “severely let down” by forces after reporting domestic abuse committed by officers and staff.

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