An ex-Surrey Police officer who left a vulnerable person at a train station late on a cold night committed gross misconduct, a panel has found.
The panel heard that former PC James Brown had made the decision to take the person – known as witness A – to Fleet train station rather than into custody because he would have been “a pain in the backside”.
A hearing at the force’s Mount Browne headquarters in Guildford also ruled that had he still been a serving officer he would have been dismissed from the force.
On January 21, 2021, police were called to an incident where witness A was being aggressive towards staff at a Surrey events space and was accused of spitting and using racist language.
The hearing was told that the former officer was among the first on the scene and was the most experienced officer there, and due to “warning markers” on the call to police, would have been aware of the various factors which made witness A vulnerable.
He arrested witness A for breach of the peace but legal representatives on behalf of the “appropriate authority” said he then decided to take witness A to Fleet train station, knowing it would be closed and that it was late on a cold night.
Former PC James Brown joined Surrey Police in August 2000 but resigned before the hearing took place on Wednesday, June 29. He was not present at the hearing.
The legally qualified chair of the panel, Harry Ireland, said he was satisfied the hearing could take place in the former PC’s absence, because he had had notice of it taking place and had voluntarily decided not to attend.
Surrey Police Federation secretary, Tom Arthur, said he had “limited options” in the case, because the former PC had stopped engaging with the federation regarding the proceedings.
The panel heard that former PC Brown denied misconduct and gross misconduct and a written “regulation 31” statement had been submitted on his behalf.
Witness A was not arrested for any further offences on the day, despite continued shouting, swearing and racist language as he was being removed from the scene, which the panel heard was a missed opportunity to deal with other offences.
Despite being aware of various factors which were flagged in relation to witness A’s vulnerabilities, the panel heard that the former officer left him at Fleet train station thinking he would either get a taxi from there or “get his head down”.
Jack Horlock, on behalf of the appropriate authority, said there was potential, given witness A’s known vulnerabilities, “for this to have been a lot, lot worse”.
Mr Horlock said the ex-officer made the sole decision to leave witness A in a strange location “with very little information, if any, about where he would go or if he could go anywhere at all”.
He added: “It was late that night, it was cold that night.”
He told the panel: “In making that decision he said he didn’t want to take him into custody because he would be a ‘pain in the backside’ and would just be released or refused by the custody sergeant.”
After being left at the station witness A made a call to police to say he had been “dumped in Fleet and told to make his own way home”.
He then went on foot to a nearby petrol station and caused criminal damage to pumps, before being arrested by Hampshire Police just before 1am on January 22.
Mr Horlock said: “There cannot be any doubt that witness A was being difficult, but dealing with difficult members of the public is something police officers are trained to deal with and to deal with appropriately.
“It is a very important part of their duties.”
He said there was a dual harm in the case in terms of the actual harm caused to the petrol station by witness A and the risk of harm introduced to the vulnerable individual.
The panel heard that the former officer had a good service record from his 20 years on the front line in the force.
Mr Arthur said it was the first conduct incident in the former PC’s time in the force.
The head of Surrey Police’s professional standards department, Temporary Superintendent Steve Schulten, said in a statement released after the hearing that the former PC’s behaviour not only breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour but was also in contradiction of the police Code of Ethics.
He said it undermined what the force stood for in Surrey.
He added: “There is no place in Surrey Police, or policing nationally, for anyone who shows a complete lack of regard for someone’s vulnerabilities in this way.
“The panel agreed that, taking into account former PC Brown’s culpability, together with the actual and potential harm caused and effects that this behaviour would have on public confidence, his cumulative conduct amounted to gross misconduct.
“If he had still been serving, he would have been dismissed without notice.”