Former police officer barred over sexual relationship with vulnerable domestic violence victim
A Shropshire police officer embarked on a sexual relationship with a vulnerable domestic violence victim he met through his work, a misconduct panel has heard.
Former PC Mark Hidden, 42, met up with the woman for sex while on duty, exchanged hundreds of explicit photos and videos with her on his work mobile and twice breached Covid restrictions by visiting her home during lockdown.
The disgraced former officer has been barred from ever re-joining the police after the panel concluded that he would have been sacked for gross misconduct had he not already resigned.
Hidden did not attend the hearing in Worcester on Tuesday or provide a statement, but the panel heard he had admitted to the relationship when interviewed by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in October 2020.
Andrew Waters, barrister for the IOPC, told the panel Mr Hidden first met the woman, named only as Ms A, in August 2019 when he was called out to an unrelated incident. He visited her home address several weeks later about the same matter.
Ms A told investigators that on this occasion Hidden had told her she needed to “change her dating habits” and go on a date with him instead. He gave her his work mobile number.
On two occasions in November 2019, Hidden searched for Ms A and her then-partner on the police computer system, despite having no involvement in cases concerning them.
Mr Waters said following this there were a number of incidents involving the couple which Hidden was dispatched to.
Hidden began a sexual relationship with Ms A in December 2019.
During this time Ms A’s former partner was arrested and bailed, but she reported he had breached his bail conditions by contacting her.
As a result, on January 16 of 2020, Hidden completed a ‘DASH’ form on Ms A – a risk assessment on her vulnerability in relation to domestic violence.
Mr Waters said: “Of course by this stage the sexual relationship had already started and he should have been having nothing to do with this incident, and nothing to do with policing relating to her, but of course he has kept the relationship secret.”
The assessment noted that Ms A was afraid of her ex-partner and there was a history of domestic violence towards her and previous partners.
Later that day, Hidden arrested the man for breaching his bail conditions.
He completed another DASH form on Ms A on January 19.
Mr Waters said: “He has recorded that Ms A is very distressed and concerned for her safety and that of her young son.
“There are other instances as well, but suffice to say throughout this the officer has clearly initiated a sexual relationship with Ms A, who he knows to be vulnerable, and is still dealing with her within a policing context.”
The relationship continued and he visited her home on April 9 and 17, while the UK was in full Covid lockdown.
On May 16, a friend of Ms A’s called the police to report concerns for her safety, and told the call handler that they believed Ms A was in a relationship with an officer from Bridgnorth.
Two officers were dispatched, but Hidden heard the call over his police radio and said he would also attend.
Ms A was arrested for being drunk and disorderly, and announced that she and Hidden and been sleeping together.
Colleagues reported the allegations and, arriving at Ludlow Police Station after the incident, Hidden admitted to the relationship to his supervisor.
When Ms A was asked about their relationship, she said he “visited her mainly when he was on duty”.
More than 5,500 messages had been exchanged between Ms A and Hidden’s police mobile phone, including hundreds of explicit photos and videos.
“She felt used and very let down,” said Mr Waters.
When interviewed by the IOPC, Hidden read a prepared statement in which he apologised to Ms A and said he accepted the relationship was “completely inappropriate”.
He said he had let himself, his family and West Mercia Police down, and that he knew his policing career was over.
However Hidden denied the allegations of inappropriate use of the police computer, saying his searches were in relation to genuine policing work.
Despite this the panel found all allegations proved and found that they amounted to breaches of the standards of professional conduct in relation to authority, respect and courtesy, confidentiality, orders and instructions, and discreditable conduct. The panel concluded Hidden had committed gross misconduct.
Mr Waters said there were a “considerable number of aggravating factors”, including the length of time the relationship went on for, Ms A’s vulnerability, the significant breach of the force mobile phone policy, and current public concerns over the behaviour of male police officers towards women.
Addressing the panel, he said: “All of us read almost daily, and see within the media, about issues of serious public concern about police officers mistreating, in particular in sexual terms, women.
“This is a national and indeed local concern, and should be properly reflected in your decision as to the appropriate outcome.”
No mitigation was put forward on Hidden’s behalf, but Mr Waters highlighted his apparent remorse and previously unblemished policing record.
Delivering the panel’s decision on the appropriate sanction, legally qualified chair Nick Hawkins said it was “an extremely serious case” with potential to cause “reputational harm to the police service locally and nationally”.
Mr Hawkins said: “The public turn to police officers in times of need and vulnerable people need their protection, not to be taken advantage of.
“The panel were in absolutely no doubt that we would have dismissed former PC Hidden had he still been a serving officer.”
As a result, Hidden will be added to the College of Policing barred list.
Responding to the outcome of the hearing, IOPC regional director Derrick Campbell said: “This sends a clear message that behaviour of this kind will be thoroughly investigated, has no part in policing and will not be tolerated.”
The IOPC also confirmed it had sent a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service, but it decided not to bring any criminal charges.