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Police constable sacked for failing to help security guard with shoplifter

Published 23/09/2015

Jonathan Webb, an officer with 15 years of service, was dismissed without notice at the hearing in Wavertree
Jonathan Webb, an officer with 15 years of service, was dismissed without notice at the hearing in Wavertree

A police constable has been sacked and three others disciplined after they failed to help a supermarket security guard as he grappled with a shoplifter in the street a few feet away.

The supermarket's manager had flagged down a marked police car carrying the on-duty uniformed officers in Liverpool city centre last December.

The officer in the front passenger seat, Pc Jonathan Webb, 48, wound down his window and said they were "not kitted up" and the vehicle drove off.

Police finally attended the scene after the Tesco store manager dialled 999 but not before the guard, Shaun Rigby, was assaulted by the thief.

Assistant Chief Constable of Merseyside Police Ian Pilling has apologised to the guard and the shop manager as he said the overall response was "way, way below" the standard expected by the force and the public.

A disciplinary panel, chaired by Mr Pilling, found that Pc Webb and driver Pc Mark Higgins committed gross misconduct, while backseat passengers Pc Joanne Parr and Pc Paul Birch committed misconduct.

Pc Webb, an officer with 15 years of service, was dismissed without notice at the hearing in Wavertree.

The panel ruled there was no evidence to show any of the officers witnessed the struggle or that Pc Webb's colleagues heard his conversation with store boss David Markey.

Pc Webb accepted that Mr Markey told him "I think someone in the shop may be robbing", but denied he promised to send back-up.

The panel said "more than enough was said" for Pc Webb to form an opinion that a criminal offence was taking place and it was "inexcusable" he "fobbed off" Mr Markey.

It noted that when giving evidence this week Pc Webb "did not appear to grasp the gravity of his actions and did not appear to take responsibility for the situation".

Mr Pilling said: "He failed to maintain high professional standards and we are not convinced he will do so in the future."

Pc Higgins was said to have shown "a poor, unprofessional attitude" and should have taken an interest in what was being said rather than listening to the "chatter and gossip" of his colleagues about a Christmas works party.

It was accepted he did not see the struggle, but not wearing his driving glasses and driving with a defective headlight "probably did not assist".

The panel said that as the driver of the vehicle he should have checked the situation before he left the scene in Dale Street on December 5 at about 9.15pm.

Pc Higgins received a final written warning and will not be allowed to drive a police vehicle until he is formally assessed.

Pc Parr and Pc Birch ought to have known of the developing situation, the panel said, and would have intervened if they had.

Their misconduct was at the lower end of the scale and were short lapses by otherwise competent officers, it concluded.

Both will receive management advice regarding the need to maintain vigilance on duty "even when being transported in a police vehicle".

Following the incident, the shoplifter Roy Fagan, 31, of Westmorland Drive, Liverpool, pleaded guilty to stealing £4.62 of alcohol and guilty to assault by beating in relation to Mr Rigby.

He was handed an eight-week prison sentence suspended for 12 months.

In mitigation for Pc Webb, the hearing was told he accepted his judgment in "a period of those nine seconds" had failed and his decision making was at fault.

His counsel pointed out the incident would not have happened with the benefit of hindsight and that he was a "good officer".

It was also noted that Mr Rigby had stated he did not wish any officer to lose his job over the matter.

Detective Chief Superintendent Karen Cummings, head of the force's Professional Standards Department said that it had been their first misconduct hearing held in public, and should serve as a warning.

She added: "We strive to be open and transparent, it has been a rigorous and detailed examination of the events that night when a small number of our officers let the public down, their colleagues down and themselves down.

"The vast majority of the 6,000 police officers and support staff within Merseyside Police serve the public to the standard expected of them and do a fantastic job day in, day out. This case should serve as a warning to those who don't behave in the manner expected of them of the consequences they face."

She added that Merseyside Police demanded the highest standards of professionalism and integrity from all its officers and support staff.

"It is what the public rightly expect and without doubt deserve and any failings in meeting those high standards can damage public confidence and trust in the police.

"We simply cannot afford to have police officers and civilian support staff working for us who do not strive to uphold the highest levels of professionalism and integrity at all times."

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