Officer dismissed for sending ‘grossly inappropriate’ messages to vulnerable woman
A Greater Manchester Police (GMP) officer has been sacked for gross misconduct after exchanging “grossly inappropriate” WhatsApp messages with a vulnerable woman.
An accelerated misconduct hearing heard that PC Robert Whitehead exchanged the messages on his work mobile after creating a care plan for the woman, who had previously been reported missing.
Chief Constable Stephen Watson, who chaired the hearing, said PC Whitehead was aware that Miss A was vulnerable but still “engaged in flirtatious messaging” in November 2022.
The messaging then switched to his personal phone, with PC Whitehead subsequently asking Miss A to delete all the messages and photos exchanged between them.
Miss A threatened to inform GMP about the messages and reported the exchanges. PC Whitehead was arrested on November 15 on suspicion of misconduct in public office and improper use of police powers and suspended from duty.
Julian King told the hearing that his client accepted his actions were “misjudged” but that “he had not been pursuing a sexual or romantic relationship” with Miss A.
Mr Watson dismissed PC Whitehead without notice, finding his actions breached the standards of integrity and professional behaviour and that it amounted to gross misconduct.
He added: “While much of the messaging could amount to an officer checking on a vulnerable female’s safety and wellbeing, there were messages that were grossly inappropriate and of a sexual nature.
“PC Whitehead knew his actions were inappropriate having chosen to swap his police issue mobile to his personal number.
“He should have known that it was entirely inappropriate and an abuse of power and falls far below the behaviours and standards that the public expects.”
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) carried out an investigation into PC Whitehead’s conduct following a referral from GMP.
PC Whitehead, who was based at Tameside, was also added to the College of Policing Barred List.
Detective Chief Superintendent Michael Allen, of GMP’s Professional Standards Branch, said: “Every day and night, officers from GMP put on their uniforms to protect the vulnerable people in our communities from harm.
“Whitehead failed in that very duty, seriously abusing his privileged position by communicating with a vulnerable female in a grossly improper way, thus exposing her to further harm.
“I thank the IOPC for its investigation having referred this case to them, producing quality evidence that GMP’s Professional Standards Branch used to take Whitehead to an accelerated misconduct hearing.
“Having abused his position by departing from the highest standards of professional behaviour that all police officers must embody, it is right that he has been dismissed from the force and barred from ever working in policing again.
“He will no longer will be able to put on a uniform nor carry a warrant card, and GMP are a better police service without him.
“No one in GMP will tolerate working alongside someone who behaves in such a corrupt way and this is why the chief constable has stripped Whitehead of his powers, privileges and his employment.”
The IOPC said evidence showed PC Whitehead met the woman after she was reported missing from home and taking part in the police effort to locate her.
A short time later he began exchanging messages, first from his GMP-issued mobile phone and then from his personal device. Analysis showed these messages were sent while he was both on and off-duty.
“Many of the messages were signed with an ‘x’ and some were flirtatious in nature,” said the IOPC. “PC Whitehead received inappropriate messages and images which he did not discourage, nor did he report the contact to management.
“PC Whitehead also made a number of comments about the woman’s appearance. At one point he asked where she was, seemingly for the purpose of arranging to meet her, although there was no evidence they met up in the short time they were in contact.
“He also sent a message telling the woman to delete their conversations, saying she would ‘get in bother’ if she didn’t.”
On conclusion of its investigation in May 2023, the IOPC informed GMP that it had identified “incontrovertible evidence” of PC Whitehead’s conduct that was likely to amount to gross misconduct.
A file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, which decided not to authorise any criminal charges.
IOPC Regional Director Catherine Bates said: “When officers abuse their position for a sexual purpose this is a form of serious corruption, which has absolutely no place in policing.
“PC Whitehead was well aware of the woman’s vulnerability yet rather than helping her, he tried to exploit the situation for his own sexual gratification. His attempts to cover up this appalling behaviour show he was well aware his communication with the woman had gone far beyond acceptable, professional contact.
“Thanks to the prompt referral from GMP, and swift response of IOPC investigators, we were able to stop this contact before it escalated any further. The resulting investigation has ensured PC Whitehead was held accountable for his actions and I welcome today’s outcome.”