Police officer lovers convicted of sabotaging child abuse investigations out of ‘cynical disdain’ for victims
Lee Pollard and Sharon Patterson are so far the only detectives put on trial from a specialist child abuse team that had to be split up after concerns were raised about 55 investigations involving nearly 60 victims.
After the guilty verdicts against Sharon Patterson and Lee Pollard, it can also be reported that the two detective constables were part of a specialist Essex police team that had to be split up amid concerns about 55 child abuse investigations involving 59 potential victims.
When the IPCC revealed it was investigating in 2015, Essex Police and Crime Commissioner Nick Alston admitted it was “likely” that “there were people subsequently abused because of a failure by police to investigate”.
But Pollard and Patterson were the only ones to be put on trial for criminal offences relating to the scandal that hit Essex’s North Child Abuse Investigation Team .
The Old Bailey trial heard that in their professional life the two lovers had for three years acted out of “laziness, self-preservation and sometimes a cynical disdain for complainants”.
On one occasion, the court heard, Patterson cancelled an appointment to view social service records connected with a case by saying: “I’m required to assist another officer with something more pressing.”
In court she denied that the more pressing matter was getting her nails done before enjoying a long lunch and “lashings of Chinese grub” with her lover and fellow officer Pollard. But she had to admit she couldn’t remember what the real “more pressing matter” had been.
The court heard the couple had begun an affair soon after Pollard, 47, joined the unit in the autumn of 2011.
Patterson, 49, a mother-of-three, told the court that when her husband became suspicious just before Christmas 2011, she composed a text, intended for Pollard, saying “[He] knows about us”, before accidentally sending it to her husband.
She moved out of the family home in early 2012 and divorced in 2013, the year Pollard permanently split from his wife. The couple now live together in Colchester, Essex.
They denied three counts each of misconduct in a public office between 2011 and 2014.
After jury deliberations spread over four days, Patterson was found guilty of one charge and cleared of a second while Pollard was convicted of two charges of misconduct.
The jury was discharged from considering one more charge against each defendant. These will lie on court file. Patterson and Pollard will be sentenced on 3 May.
Alexandra Healy QC, prosecuting, had told the jury the pair’s conduct “went beyond incompetence [and] the effect was that allegations involving child sex offences were not properly investigated.”
The court heard that on 23 November 2012, 14 minutes after cancelling the appointment to view social services records, Patterson emailed Pollard: “I'm going to get my nails done - what colour would you suggest?”
There was then a four-and-a-half-hour gap in the email exchange, before Pollard sent Patterson a message at 2.17pm, saying “Thank you for lunch. I love you."
Patterson replied: “It was lovely to spend time with you. Thank you and I love you heaps!! LOL."
Pollard wrote back saying "We ate lashings and lashings of Chinese grub," receiving the reply: “And it was scrumptious”.
Patterson denied cancelling the social service records appointment so she could get her nails done, and insisted the Chinese restaurant was not suitable for a long lunch because it only offered a buffet menu and had uncomfortable chairs.
In their defence, the pair said they had been overworked, their case load increasing to hard-to-manage proportions through other officers going off sick and the revelations about Jimmy Savile creating a climate where people felt able to come forward with their own historic abuse allegations.
Patterson and Pollard are likely to remain the only officers to be convicted of criminal offences after problems were uncovered with cases investigated by Essex's North Child Abuse Investigation Team between 2011 and 2014. The CPS ruled that the evidence did not support the prosecution of four others of detective constable or detective sergeant rank.
After 296 Essex child abuse cases were looked at, 55 were referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
A total of 30 officers, including Patterson and Pollard, were subject to some form of disciplinary investigation.
One DC, who had remained a serving officer, was sacked for gross misconduct after a hearing in October 2018.
Of the 27 other officers, 11 were subject to some form of internal police discipline, including three who had misconduct proven against them.
Seven officers retired or resigned prior to a full investigation into their conduct. Seven others were found to have no case to answer and two were cleared of misconduct after a disciplinary hearing.
After the Old Bailey trial ended on Thursday, Essex Police’s Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet apologised to the affected child abuse victims, saying: “Nothing is more important than protecting children.
“The trial highlighted that between 2011 and 2014 we let a number of victims and their families down. Those victims had suffered child abuse, one of the most heinous crimes imaginable.
“On behalf of the force, I would like to reiterate our apologies to those affected – we are sorry.
“My commitment to those affected, and the wider public, is that since this came to light, Essex Police has improved greatly in the way we investigate these complex crimes.”
The concerns about the unit came to light in 2014 after a victim complained her signature had been forged - and misspelled - on a statement taken by Patterson.
The case was reassigned and resulted in a conviction in 2015.
The Old Bailey heard that Pollard failed to investigate an allegation of sexual touching by a teenager then lied by claiming no further action was to be taken, on CPS advice.
It can now also be reported that in September 2015 he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
According to a report at the time, he accessed, copied and disclosed another officer's computerised application for a job promotion without the individual's permission and then disclosed it to another officer who was considering applying for the same post.
This was described as "a deliberate and flagrant breach of honesty and integrity".
Following the convictions, Busola Johnson, from the CPS, said that Patterson and Pollard “showed complete contempt for the positions they held".