Cambs police officer dismissed without notice after ‘conducting searches for non-policing purposes’ on force computers

PC Lorna Thorley has been dismissed without notice following a special case misconduct hearing. Pict

PC Lorna Thorley has been dismissed without notice following a special case misconduct hearing. Picture: Cambs Cops - Credit: Cambs Cops

A Cambridgeshire police officer has been dismissed without notice after it was discovered she had ‘conducted searches of non-policing purposes’ on a force computer.

PC Lorna Thorley, who was based in Peterborough, was found to have breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour at a misconduct hearing on Friday, June 12.

The special case hearing, held at Cambridgeshire Constabulary HQ in Huntingdon, found she had breached standards in respect of Orders and Instructions, Confidentiality, Authority, Respect and Courtesy.

Chief Constable Nick Dean said: “I have reviewed the facts of this case and my findings in respect of PC Thorley’s conduct are as follows.

“On June 25 2019 a supervisor within Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s Child Abuse Investigation Unit became concerned that PC Thorley had contacted a member of their team in order to ascertain information regarding a person that they were investigating.

“This concern was raised to the Professional Standards Department and the subsequent audit checks revealed that between January 28 2013 and February 18 2019 PC Thorley had accessed police systems on 17 separate days, conducting 71 searches; the searches were for non-policing purposes.

“I have read through this investigation file and listened to the case put before this Hearing today.

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“It is alleged that you have breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour notably: Orders and Instructions, Confidentiality, Authority, Respect and Courtesy.

“I note that in your Written Notice Response Pursuant to Regulation 45(1)-(4) you accept that you have breached the said Standards of Professional Behaviour which amounts to Gross Misconduct.

“I have also considered your conduct against the Codes of Ethics, a Code which fundamentally underpins and expands on the Standards of Professional Behaviour set out in Schedule 2 of the Conduct Regulations.

“I as the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary have also set out the organisational values by which I expect all officers and staff to adhere to.

“Under Regulation 3(1) Gross Misconduct means a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour which is so serious that dismissal would be justified.

“The police service and the public expect that all its officers and staff to act in manner that does not bring discredit to the service or harm its reputation.

“The public expect that these standards are upheld. The conduct that PC Thorley has displayed falls way short of these standards.

“I have considered this case in full and find that PC Thorley’s conduct amounts to gross misconduct.

“I have considered all the facts of this case and the representations made during this Hearing.

“I have also considered the College of Policing Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings. I have paid particular note to the aggravating and mitigating factors presented.

“I can assure the panel and in particular PC Thorley’s Federation Representative and Counsel that I have considered very carefully the personal circumstances which have been outlined this morning.

“In addition, the extensive testaments of good character from colleagues and associates and indeed PC Thorley’s acceptance from an early stage in this investigation that her conduct amounted to Gross Misconduct.

“In referring the College of Policing Guidelines, I am cognisant that any sanction must have due regard to maintaining public confidence and upholding the reputation of the police service.

“This case centres on the misuse of computer systems and the access to personal data for a nonpolicing purpose.

“Turning first to the area of culpability. As the case has outlined this has not been a ‘one- off’ incident which could have been seen as a lapse of judgement.

“Unauthorised access was over a sustained number of years, access which PC Thorley knew was seriously wrong. It cannot be clearer within the policing environment that to access data for non-policing purposes is wrong, whatever the apparent motivation for doing so.

“The data itself contained personal information of a sensitive nature relating to a number of individuals, the fact that these individuals were close family members matters not.

“Continual breaches of personal privacy were conducted. I have considered the submission that PC Thorley conducted the checks for ‘safeguarding reasons’, however I am not satisfied, on the balance of probabilities, that the information obtained was acted upon in this regard.

“PC Thorley has a service record that outlines her work within a specialist area, dealing and building confidence with vulnerable victims.

“Each breach was not a spontaneous act, with her background and experience it should have been at the forefront of her mind that to access this information was in breach of standards expected.

“The public trust the police service to hold and access data in line with the law; if that trust is eroded the wider confidence in us as a public service no longer exists.

“Misuse of police computer systems and information is a particular concern for the police service; this makes this case all the more serious; it has been subject of repeated misconduct procedures and the College of Policing Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings provide that,‘’ personal reasons for accessing confidential police information such as general curiosity or a desire to check on criminal activity …..are not acceptable’’.

“The harm to the reputation of Cambridgeshire Constabulary and indeed the wider police service cannot be under estimated when cases such as this come to notice.

“This aspect of ‘harm’ and the reputational damage caused is significant. As I have stated, this case relates to a large number of unauthorised accesses to personal data, repeated over several years by PC Thorley who had considerable policing experience.

“That is evident in the submissions of good character and in her length of service both as a police officer and PCSO. The people whose sensitive personal data had been improperly accessed could be considered vulnerable and the data was sensitive, including intelligence and custody information.

“I fully accept that both before, during and after the relationship with her partner, personal circumstances including health issues may well have had a factor in the course of action taken.

“I acknowledge the sensitive disclosures made and do not underestimate the distress that has caused. I am grateful for PC Thorley’s openness in this regard.

“The acknowledgement from PC Thorley that what she did was wrong and her openness in interview and throughout the investigation is recognised and to her credit.

“I have fully considered the sanctions available to me and what would be proportionate with regards to this specific case, including the all of PC Thorley’s mitigation and the submission by Mr Banham that a Final Written Warning should be my determination.

“The purpose of the police conduct procedures is clear: maintain public confidence, uphold high standards in policing and deter misconduct, protect the public.

“Having considered the case before me today, my determination is that the least severe outcome that deals adequately with the issues identified whilst protecting the public interest is that PC Thorley should be dismissed without notice.”