Officer used police database to contact nine women online

A SERVING police officer breached data protection laws to get the contact details of nine young women.

Police officer (28981841)
Police officer (28981841)

Stephen Richard Woods, 39, used car registration details to access data so he could contact the women on social media.

Woods, who now lives in the UK, joined Guernsey Police in April 2018 but was sacked for gross misconduct in August this year, the Magistrate’s Court heard.

He claimed he had wanted to contact the women in relation to a fitness cartoon drawings business he ran but Judge Gary Perry rejected the argument, saying it flew in the face of the evidence and all common sense.

Prosecuting advocate Rory Calderwood told the court how, when going through his induction process, the defendant had to read, understand and sign Bailiwick Law Enforcement and the States of Guernsey data protection procedures.

He knew he could access data only for genuine law enforcement purposes.

While police officers had no access to driver records themselves, the procedure was that if they provided a vehicle registration number to the Joint Emergency Services Control Centre, they could get them.

The system was based on trust.

At about 3.30pm on 5 July this year a woman was in her car outside The Candy Shop on The Bridge. The defendant was in the area as well and she said his gaze and demeanour towards her had made her feel uncomfortable. As she drove off, she realised a police car was following her.

It pulled up alongside her at a junction and the defendant who was in it smiled at her before going off in a different direction. Some time after she received a request from him on Instagram and made a complaint to Guernsey Police.

The resulting investigation found the defendant had a personal Facebook account and three on Instagram entitled The Model Comic, The Fitness Comic, and GGZ World. The numbers of several motor vehicles were found stored on his Samsung mobile phone including the complainants. Some had been requested for genuine law enforcement purposes but it was thought strange that they were on his personal device.

Enquiries established that Woods had made contact with a total of nine young women by obtaining their personal data unlawfully. One who was contacted recalled the defendant waving to her while she was in her car at The Bathing Pools and recalled he had later messaged her. A similar thing happened to another woman after she had engaged in a brief conversation with him whilst she was in her car outside the Police Station.

Advocate Calderwood said that while none of the messages had been sinister in themselves, the defendant had been persistent when sending them in some cases and had used multiple accounts of his to do it.

The defendant asked for a transfer to the Cambridge Constabulary and his last scheduled day was due to be 23 August though his last day of work given outstanding leave was to be 20 July. On 15 July disciplinary procedures commenced. The investigation concluded that there had been gross misconduct and he was dismissed with immediate affect and without notice on 14 August.

Advocate Paul Lockwood said a number of people held his client in high regard and had written letters to the court on his behalf. Not every defendant had such support.

He was mortified to be in court and had found the whole process shameful and excruciating. His dream of being a police officer now lay in tatters. This would not happen again. His client recognised the reputational damage this would have done to Guernsey Police who would no doubt have had to review procedures because of it.

Judge Perry said it was stretching it to the extreme to accept that the defendant’s only reasons for contacting the women had been for business purposes.

‘In my view his interest in these women was more than just about comic book drawings,’ he said.

This had been a serious breach of trust whilst the defendant was in in one of the most trusted positions in a small community.

It had involved young women and gone on for more than a year.

It had also made the job of current police officers more difficult as confidence in force would be undermined.

‘You have just added fuel to the conspiracy theorist and fanned the flames of mistrust to a portion of our society,’ he said.

Woods was ordered to carry our 150 hours community service as a direct alternative to five months in prison. The CSO would be done in the UK. The penalty was current on each of the nine charges which were all admitted. Forfeiture and destruction of his mobile phone was ordered.

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