A Durrington police officer’s career is on the line as he faces accusations of lying about fraudulent withdrawals from ATMs.
PC Stephen Watson appeared at a gross misconduct hearing this morning where he was questioned about a call he made to Barclays bank on behalf of his wife’s grandmother in 2013.
Notwithstanding her fading memory, her fragile mental state, you decided that was what you were going to do?Martin Forshaw, prosecuting
He faced a disciplinary panel at Sussex Police HQ in Lewes which will determine if any dishonesty breached police standards.
The panel heard evidence that on December 4, 2013, PC Watson, calling on behalf of the ‘fragile’ Joyce Fields, told Barclays that two transactions totalling £450 were fraudulent, when in fact they were made by him.
If found to have breached police standards, PC Watson could be suspended or sacked.
PC Watson, 41. told the hearing: “She rang my wife for help speaking to Barclays about the transaction she was not happy about.”
As his wife had recently given birth, PC Watson visited Mrs Fields himself, he told the panel.
He said she did not recognise a withdrawal of £200 from an ATM at Tesco in Littlehampton, and said she wanted to report it to Barclays.
PC Watson then called the bank on her behalf, saying that he often helped her with this sort of thing due to her ‘fragile’ mental state and memory problems.
He also said he would often take money out for her using her card and PIN when they went shopping with his wife, as Mrs Fields sometimes struggled using ATMs.
Speaking to Barclays disputes department, PC Watson highlighted two ATM withdrawals, £200 at Tesco in Littlehampton on November 22 and £250 at Wick Parade on November 28.
The bank advisor agreed to refund the money within 24 hours, and said PC Watson and Mrs Fields would have to fill out paperwork within ten days to officially report the transactions as fraud, or the bank would take the money back.
In the end, the paperwork was never filled out.
Asked if he thought the November 22 withdrawal was likely to be fraudulent, PC Watson said: “At the time on the phone it was possible it was one of the amounts I had taken out but she was telling me it wasn’t.”
Martin Forshaw, prosecuting on behalf the police, asked PC Watson: “You are ringing up to report a complaint made by Mrs Fields of fraudulent transactions, one of which you made five days earlier and you could not remember?
“Even though you thought you might have done it you still went ahead.
“Notwithstanding her fading memory, her fragile mental state, you decided that was what you were going to do?”
PC Watson told the panel: “It just didn’t occur to me at that point.
“She was very adamant that’s what she wanted to do.
“Going back I would probably make the same judgement call again.”
The prosecutor branded PC Watson’s account ‘complete fiction’ and that his actions have ‘raised serious issues of discreditable conduct’.
Mr Forshaw said Watson ‘misrepresented the position to the financial institution’.
He added: “We have grave concerns about his ability to perform as a police officer and this would damage the reputation of the force.”
However Mark Aldred, representing PC Watson, said: “It is not unreasonable for him to have taken the view that he took.”
He argued it was not his account and the officer was merely acting as an ‘interpreter’.
Mr Aldred added there was a lack of motive, asking why an officer of 14 years would lie. He also pointed out that PC Watson may not have immediately linked his withdrawal from the ATM with a specific date when asked.
The hearing was adjourned until June 21, when the panel will give its verdict and decide on any punishment.