Police officer admits gross misconduct but denies she is 'dishonest' after insurance lie

  • Gloucestershire
  • 13/10/2017
Police officer admits gross misconduct but denies she is 'dishonest' after insurance lie
A policewoman who lied to an insurance company has been branded dishonest by a tribunal conducting a misconduct hearing at Gloucestershire Police headquarters.

PC Shelley Holloway admitted she was guilty of gross misconduct and had acted 'without integrity' but denied her behaviour was dishonest.

However, after a day of hearing evidence yesterday, the panel chairman, lawyer Alex Lock, said they had found against her she was dishonest.

"She knew what she did was wrong," he said.

"She felt remorseful and guilty. She has therefore committed gross misconduct including by breaching the standard of dishonesty."

The hearing will resume later today to hear mitigation from PC Holloway before deciding whether she should be dismissed from the Gloucestershire force.

Stephen Morley, representing the Gloucestershire police disciplinary department, told the tribunal that PC Holloway breached professional standards when working on motor patrol on her own in Cheltenham.

Her automatic number plate recognition system in the car alerted her to an uninsured vehicle driving the other way.

"She stopped the vehicle and spoke to the driver, a 19-year-old man, Kuvazaiishe Shonwa, whose girlfriend was in the passenger seat," said Mr Morley.

"He had bought the Vauxhall Astra that day but had not expected to pick it up until a few days later and he hadn't arranged appropriate insurance. He couldn't arrange this at the dealership due to his age.

"He decided to drive it home and try to make the necessary arrangements there. But he couldn't do so due to bank card issues. He then drove to his girlfriend's house and was stopped by PC Holloway on the way there.

"The irony is that the officer then tried to help him. She was within her rights to report him and have the vehicle towed away. But she offered them the opportunity to go to his girlfriend's house so that they could make arrangements for insurance.

"He then made efforts to insure with Churchill but his father was not present. He overcame that difficulty by pretending to be his own father."

During the call to Churchill Insurance Mr Shonwa 'got himself into all sorts of difficulties' in his conversation with one of the company's officials, said Mr Morley.

He played to the hearing a recording of the telephone call Mr Shonwa made to the insurers, including a section where PC Holloway confirmed that the representative was speaking to Mr Shonwa's father Fungai Shonwa, and that both men were present. That was not true.

Mr Morley added: "She did issue a formal ticket - she wasn't letting him off. That was to avoid the vehicle being towed away."

The hearing was told that Mr Shonwa subsequently had 6 penalty points endorsed on his licence for driving without insurance. Because he was a newly qualified driver he was also required to resit his driving test.

It had been alleged that the subterfuge was PC Holloway's idea but she denied that and the allegation was withdrawn.

After Mr Shonwa gave evidence Mr Morley accepted: "This whole charade was not PC Holloway's idea. The fair thing to do is to withdraw that allegation."

But by virtue of admitting gross misconduct by lying to the insurance company, PC Holloway still faces serious sanctions and possible dismissal.

PC Holloway told the panel about the enormous stress and pressure, both personal and professional, that she was feeling at the time of the incident last August.

"I want to start by offering my apologies. I regret what I said to the insurance company" she said, "I feel very ashamed that we are here today because of that."

Her lawyer Mark Ley-Morgan asked her about the stress she was suffering in 2016 and when it was at its worst.

"In June, July and August things were escalating," she said. "Things were getting quite out of hand."

The panel heard that she had symptoms of stress and anxiety with panic attacks.

"It's very, very difficult for me to put myself back in that position. I was struggling to cope in August 2016. I was struggling to keep my head above water, to keep going really.

"That day my shift didn't start very well," she said.

She went on to outline how she spoke to Mr Shonwa in Badgeworth Lane, near Shurdington after she became aware that his vehicle was not insured.

"He showed me lots of paperwork about the purchase of the car that day, but then admitted that he didn't have insurance."

Mr Ley-Morgan asked her: "You have discretion about whether to tow away a car in those circumstances?"

"Yes," she replied. "I made enquiries with the Motor Insurance Bureau. They confirmed that there was no policy.

"Churchill could not find a policy in that name. Then he told me it was in his dad's name. My initial thoughts were that he was a young driver trying to get cheaper insurance through being a named driver on his father's policy.

"He explained he was going to university and that his dad would be the main driver. That seemed plausible," she said.

"Yeah, I explained the consequences to him and that I was going to report him for driving with no insurance.

"The MIB confirmed that there had been a policy, but that was cancelled. He admitted he didn't have insurance."

Mr Ley-Morgan asked: "When did you decide to give him a chance to sort out the insurance?"

"At the roadside," she replied. "He seemed plausible, a nice young man. The address he was going to, I checked on a map, it was only a minute away. Being able to get insurance sorted would have negated the vehicle impounding.

"He made it seem like it would be very straightforward. I made it clear I was going to report him. He wasn't going to get away with it. He was going to get his licence revoked as a new driver with six points.

"Almost straightaway it became clear that it wasn't as straightforward as it seemed at the roadside.

"I started giving him the ticket in the lounge. My advice to him was to ring Churchill as they already had his details, as it can take ages to sort out a new quote, and I didn't have ages. I wanted to be sure that he had cover and could drive the car legally.

"I heard him give his father's name at the beginning of the conversation, but he had explained that the original policy was in his father's name."

She then told the panel that she was contacted by the police control room about an incident on the motorway.

"It was a grade one incident. That's an emergency response. I said I was engaged with a motorist and would be a few minutes. I knew that potentially I was the only traffic officer available.

"I didn't want to give Mr Shonwa the impression I could wait all day. It only takes 30 minutes for recovery to get there, so getting insurance has to be done within that time.

"I was starting to feel annoyed, knowing that there was another incident to go to. I began to feel stressed. Regretting giving him a chance, but I didn't feel I could go back on my word."

Mr Ley-Morgan asked her: "Why did you get involved in the phone call?"

"Because he had eventually been able to explain the situation to me, he was having difficulties explaining it again. I was trying to help. I didn't think he was lying to me. It seemed quite plausible.

"My general state of mind... I was carrying a lot of stress. I started to feel stressed, to feel a bit blinkered. Reading this report today has brought back those feelings. My heart was racing maybe, similar to how I'm feeling now.

"I realised quite late that he wasn't just giving his father's details. He was pretending to be his father. I should have told him not to do that," she said.

"I can't answer that for definite. I know it's very, very wrong not to have done it. I made this promise that he could get his insurance. I became blinkered. I lost my judgement at that moment in time. I've regretted it ever since."

Mr Ley-Morgan asked why did she lie to the insurance company.

"In that stress frame of mind, I wasn't thinking straight. I went along with what he said. I realised straight away it was wrong, as soon as I said it. Turning back the hands of time I would have told the insurance company, but by then I wanted it to be over."

PC Holloway then told the panel how she "self reported" the incident to her sergeant as soon as she could.

"I wanted to tell him what had happened, that what I said to the insurance company wasn't true," she said.

"Why didn't you keep quiet?" Mr Ley-Morgan asked.

"It's not in my nature. I'd done something wrong. I had to report it. All I wanted to do was report it. I didn't think about the catastrophe of it all," she said.

Mr Morley, in cross examination, asked her why did she think that the insurance representative believed her.

"I guess he accepted it because I was a police officer. I wasn't thinking straight, I really wasn't. I'm ashamed that I didn't take ownership of the situation as police officer," she replied.

"Police officers must be honest and truthful and you weren't," Mr Morley said.

"That's why I reported it straight away. I knew I'd done the wrong thing. I regret everything I did. I tried to help someone, and took it too far.

"I knew it was serious. It was wrong. I needed to tell my sergeant. I realised how bad it was. I know what's right and wrong.

"I'm not a dishonest person. Dishonest to me is more than a mere lapse. It's a course of conduct and I'm not dishonest. It was never my intention to mislead. I got caught up in something that wasn't my creation."

Announcing that the panel had found that PC Holloway acted dishonestly, Mr Lock said: "We accept that you may have acted to assist with no personal gain. Nevertheless, lies were told.

"We have concluded unequivocally that a member of the public would think that this is dishonest. We also find that she would have known herself that this was dishonest.

"Therefore she has committed gross misconduct including by breaching standards of dishonesty."
  
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