The boss of an officer accused of gross misconduct for failing to disclose evidence said it was “almost impossible” for her to do her job properly because of short staffing caused by policing cuts.
The officer, who has previously been named by Brighton and Hove News but who we cannot name as part of these proceedings, failed to pass on CCTV to the defence and asked a colleague not to mention it existed.
The colleague informed professional standards, which led to a trial with six defendants accused of selling chemsex drugs collapsing in May 2019 – and another linked trial being abandoned.
A Sussex Police misconduct hearing held today heard that just before the investigation, Operation Australia, began, policing cuts had led to the axing of disclosure officer roles.
Disclosure officers make sure all evidence is passed onto the defence, and their role is to test evidence from the defence’s point of view.
The hearing was also told that at the time, evidence was logged and stored on several different systems, making it difficult to keep track of.
The officer’s boss, Detective Inspector Julie Wakeford told the hearing that in hindsight she should not have been given the dual roles.
She said: “This was the first case we had without a disclosure officer and the decision was made that the officer in the case could do both roles.
“In hindsight, that was not the best decision to make. It was far too much for one person to do.”
The officer’s counsel, Adrian Keeling, added: “The officer in the case and the disclosure officer have to approach the case from different directions.
“The disclosure officer role is testing of evidence from the defence point of view.
“You are asking an individual to approach material from two different directions.”
DI Wakeford added: “The officer is completely professional. She’s a can do person, someone who doesn’t complain about workloads and just gets on and tries to do her best whatever may be thrown at her.
“[The loss of the disclosure officer and the use of several different systems] made it almost impossible for her to carry on those roles.”
The hearing was given emails between the officer and Tanya Smith, a financial investigator who had been looking into the suspects’ bank accounts.
Before she was due to take the stand at trial, Miss Smith had emailed: “Just wanted to check re the CCTV issue, is Rachel [the CPS prosecutor] aware? I’m concerned that I may get asked questions about who made the cash deposits and what enquiries were made.
“As per my email yesterday there’s obvious responses I can give, but if I’m pushed for a yes/no answer I’m in a difficult position, especially as some of it would have been requested by me.
“From what Rachel and Chris said yesterday it sounds like some of the defence counsel have the tug at a thread approach.”
The officer replied: “Don’t worry about the CCTV if you are asked of course answer, I was only given three exhibits missed in with a box of SV videos that had strayed around the office and made their way onto my shelf during an office tidy up!
“I was dealing with Cooden at the time so lost track of what was going on and had to catch up.
“One was marked so I just chose to ignore them and have not viewed. I am suspecting there are others though and have no idea where they are if so, so they are not on any schedule C or D. Hey ho.”
Opening the case, Sussex Police’s lawyer Mat Holdcroft said after financial investigator Tanya Smith had informed professional standard, the officer had told a senior colleague there was banking CCTV material in existence that she had failed to review or to disclose.
She stated that she did not believe it to be relevant to the trial but she had not had capacity to undertake the tasks before the trial had commenced.
The officer herself told the hearing: “Operation Australia was far bigger than any other case I had worked on previously.”
She added: “I didn’t see [the CCTV] as harming the prosecution case or aiding the defence in any way.”
The officer admits simple misconduct over two counts of failing to disclose evidence, but not gross misconduct. She does not accept the third charge of trying to persuade her colleague to cover her tracks.
The hearing has now broken for lunch and will continue this afternoon.
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