A Kent Police officer has been dismissed without notice after gross misconduct was found proven at a disciplinary hearing, following an investigation by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
Police constable (PC) Evan Potter, aged 52, faced allegations of gross misconduct after being accused of having an inappropriate emotional relationship with a woman, a victim of crime, he had met through his policing duties.
IOPC’s investigation, which began in March 2020 following a conduct referral from Kent Police, found that PC Potter was assigned as the woman’s sexual offences liaison officer (SOLO) after she reported on 2 March 2020 that she had been raped.
He then formed an inappropriate emotional relationship with her, exchanging more than 2,000 messages with her in 15 days, with many messages sent by the officer while off duty and late at night.
A substantial number of the messages were professional, however some were friendly and familiar in nature, with the officer teasing and joking with the woman, using nicknames, and discussing their private lives. These messages demonstrated he was forming an inappropriate emotional relationship with the woman.
On one occasion, after she had gone through the circumstances of the rape in detail, PC Potter sent a string of messages and appeared to encourage the victim to relive the rape while speaking to her as if he were the perpetrator.
PC Potter also met with the woman a number of times, often in secluded places such as a supermarket car park.
Police watchdog looked at the nature and content of communications exchanged between PC Potter and the woman and investigated the officer’s actions and behaviour during the period he was acting as her SOLO, specifically:
• whether their relationship was appropriate
• whether PC Potter complied with force and national police policy in relation to his interactions with the woman.
PC Potter was initially arrested and interviewed by Kent Police on 20 March 2020 and then further interviewed by IOPC investigators. He also provided a written account.
The woman was also interviewed by the IOPC and provided her account of events.
At the end of the investigation in January 2021, police watchdog decided that PC Potter had a case to answer for breaches of the police standards of professional behaviour at the level of gross misconduct and should face a disciplinary hearing.
A police disciplinary panel, led by a legally qualified, independent Chair, heard evidence that we found PC Potter failed to keep accurate records of his interactions with the woman; failed to act appropriately in his role as SOLO; and failed to alert a line manager to his inappropriate relationship with her.
PC Potter also failed to safeguard the woman and notify any third parties when she alluded to suicidal thoughts.
He also wrongly accessed police information and disclosed it to the woman without a policing purpose.
The panel determined on 11 September that the officer, who was based in Folkestone, had breached the standards of professional behaviour relating to authority, respect and courtesy; duties and responsibilities; confidentiality; and discreditable conduct.
IOPC regional director Mel Palmer said: “PC Potter’s relationship with the woman was intense, lasting 15 days until his actions were discovered by Kent Police. In that time, he met with the woman on numerous occasions and exchanged more than 2,000 text messages with her.
“He should have known his conduct was wrong and failed to report this to his manager.
“From the start of their police service, officers are made fully aware that trying to form inappropriate relationships with members of the public who they deal with through their professional duties, particularly those in vulnerable positions as victims of crime, is completely unacceptable.
“Following a gross misconduct hearing, the officer has been sacked and placed on the barred list, meaning he cannot serve in policing again.
“This sends a clear message that behaviour of this kind has no place in policing and will not be tolerated – in this case it was subject to a thorough and robust investigation by both the IOPC and initially by Kent Police.”
As part of the investigation, IOPC also examined text and Instagram messages exchanged, alongside the officer’s shift rota, to establish how much of the contact took place while he was off duty.
Witness accounts were also taken from the officer’s supervisor and from another SOLO sergeant, and policies and procedures inspected to establish what was expected of officers working as Kent Police SOLOs.