On 13 January 2016, we came across the story of a former police officer who had found himself in a spot of bother…
Well, former community support officer Daniel Dawson pleaded guilty to numerous offences at Teeside Crown Court. The news reports suggest the offences were theft and attempted fraud (although it’s possible that there was also an offence under the Police Act 1996 of impersonation) but in essence, Dawson offered for sale items of police uniform and kit. He did so via the Gumtree, an online marketplace.
He offered a stab vest, a baton, handcuffs, CS canisters and a helmet. The handcuffs were priced at a reasonable £40; badges and ‘a cap’ were advertised for £10 and £30 respectively. Additionally, 40 items of police kit were found at his address.
The theft offence presumably arises from the fact he took (or kept) the items, knowing that he was not entitled to do so, shortly before or at the time he ceased to be a community support officer, with the intention of keeping them.
The fraud offence presumably arises via the offer for sale: not being in lawful possession of the items, the offer for sale included a false representation that he was entitled to offer the items for sale.
The judge commented that the offences amounted to a “serious breach of trust”.
Dawson was sentenced to a suspended sentence order of six months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years, with an unpaid work requirement of 180 hours. There was also an order for costs in the sum of £500, and, although unreported, the victim surcharge presumably applies in the sum of £80 (the date of the offence is unknown but as he was dismissed from the force in 2015 it is likely that it was very recent).
The news reports – as usual – are not particularly detailed and so we have little to go on. Although the offences were theft and fraud, this is really a theft case – the gravamen is the theft of the items rather than the misrepresentation that he was entitled to offer them for sale online – and so the theft guidelines are most likely to be of assistance.
That said, this offence is rather unusual and it cannot be said that the Theft in breach of trust guidelines contemplated this type of behaviour when they were drafted. The theft guidelines (due to be replaced soon) focus upon the value of the items taken; in this case, that would be low and so the starting point is likely to be a non-custodial sentence (probably a community order).
However, the new theft guidelines are more flexible in taking account of other factors (recognising that value is a very blunt measure of seriousness). This was arguably a theft in breach of a HIGH degree of trust and so is a culpability A case. The potential harm of such items falling into criminal hands is fairly high and so I would personally place this case into Harm category 2 or 3 (probably the top of category 3). The starting point under the new guideline is one of 12 months. With full credit for his guilty plea, that is reduced to nine months.
The sentence of six months is perhaps a little low, but not so low that it can be said to be wrong. The judge perhaps had an eye on the new guideline (as would be correct). It’s not clear why the sentence was suspended, but we presume there was some decent mitigation…either that or the judge was in a good mood. Either way, Dawson can feel relieved that he’s not facing a couple of months inside.