Police officer dismissed for sharing photo of dead woman’s semi-naked body
A police officer has been sacked after he took a photo of a dead woman lying face down and partially clothed on a bed and sent it to a colleague via WhatsApp.
Police Constable Daniel Wallwork, of Avon and Somerset Constabulary, sent the image from his personal phone with the words “Look who’s turned up dead” from the scene of the sudden death at around 7pm on April 16, 2020.
The 40-year-old, who has seven years’ experience as a police officer, claimed he was merely notifying his colleague of the death of the woman, who lived in Radstock, Somerset.
Wallwork said he and his colleague had both had prior involvement with the 42-year-old, including just a few weeks before her death when she was found intoxicated in Midsomer Norton.
The father-of-two accepted misconduct, but denied his action amounted to gross misconduct.
The image was still on Wallwork’s phone when it was examined by investigators, although he claimed he believed he had deleted it.
Mark Loker, of the Police Federation of England and Wales, told the hearing on behalf of Wallwork: “There was no merriment to this image – it was to notify his colleague who had attended the address on previous occasions.”
Mr Loker said Wallwork had been to the woman’s address previously and “actually felt quite sorry for her”. He said the image was not taken to “make fun or mock” the dead woman. “He is someone who merely got it wrong on the day and made a terrible mistake or an error of judgment,” Mr Loker said.
The behaviour of police officers at crime scenes has come under intense scrutiny in the wake of the murders of sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman in Wembley, northwest London, on June 7 2020.
Police Constables Deniz Jaffer and Jamie Lewis, formerly of the Metropolitan Police Service, were jailed for two years and nine months each in December for taking photographs of the sisters’ bodies and sharing them with friends and colleagues on WhatsApp.
Mr Loker remarked that Wallwork had taken the image before the deaths of Ms Henry and Ms Smallman, and said it would be unfair to compare his actions to those of Jaffer and Lewis.
“The values of today cannot be defined by the values of another era,” he said. He added that Wallwork has an “exemplary record” in the police, and previously worked as a prison officer after leaving the armed forces, where he served with the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers.
In his evidence, Wallwork said: “I accept what I did was wrong and I chose the wrong method of communication. I felt almost immediately that I had invaded [the deceased’s] privacy.”
The photo was saved in his phone with the title “This one” – Wallwork denied giving it such a caption, saying he did not know how to save an image with a title.
Mark Ley-Morgan, for Avon and Somerset Constabulary, told him: “I’m going to suggest you didn’t regret it at all; it wasn’t until four days later, when (your colleague) challenged you. Only then did you realise you were potentially in a bit of trouble.”
Making a finding of gross misconduct, Avon and Somerset Constabulary Chief Constable Sarah Crewe said: “I am satisfied there was a conscious and deliberate act on the part of PC Wallwork in taking and sending the photo of the deceased.
“The primary duty of PC Wallwark that day was to investigate the circumstances of death and report to the coroner. PC Wallwork took out his personal mobile phone, he took a photo and sent it to a colleague on WhatsApp; he had no policing purpose for doing so.”
She found “it was not the case” that PC Wallwork felt immediate regret, noting that the officer could have disclosed what he had done to his sergeant or apologised straight away.
Ms Crewe noted that Wallwork had continued to exchange messages about the deceased “for some time” after the photo was sent.
“None of the subsequent messages indicate any words of regret,” she said. “[Wallwork] failed to treat a woman, who he says he knew to be vulnerable, with respect, dignity or courtesy in the moment of her death, when at her most vulnerable – partially clothed and exposed to his view.
“This would undoubtedly have caused upset and distress to her family and those who loved her.”
She concluded that “dismissal without notice” was the appropriate sanction for PC Wallwork, and said the full reasons for her decision would be published on the force’s website within five days.