A police officer who abused his position to pursue a prosecution against a driving instructor after a heated altercation in Radstock has been dismissed without notice.
A professional standards panel heard that PC Keith James downplayed his own role and exaggerated that of Michael Lee after the pair clashed in February 2018.
The officer, a divorced father of two, was accused of operational dishonesty after it was found that his account of the events was significantly different from dashcam footage.
The consequences for Mr Lee could have been devastating if his video had not been available but he was ultimately acquitted in court for careless driving, the panel sitting at the Portishead HQ of Avon and Somerset Police heard on 26th February.
It concluded that it was “entirely inappropriate” for PC James to have been the investigating officer in the case, and he chose not to seize the dashcam footage.
Before the court case, he gave a detailed account to Mr Lee’s professional body, the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency, in a move described as “vindictive and unnecessary”.
Mr Lee was driving into Radstock on the A367 when PC James, off duty but heading to work, pulled out from a junction in his own VW Golf, forcing the driving instructor to slow down and prompting him to flash his lights.
Further down the road, PC James gave Mr Lee the middle finger. Mr Lee then took the “split-second” decision to change course, follow the officer and overtake him.
He claimed he wanted to get clear footage of PC James on his rear dashcam.
Defending PC James, Ramin Pakrooh said that was “nonsense” and Mr Lee “rammed on the brakes” to show how he had been forced to slow down earlier.
PC James then went on duty and the pair pulled over, at which point Mr Lee said he had captured the incident on dashcam.
The officer’s witness statement later did not mention the footage, or that he had given the other driver the middle finger.
He failed to tell his superiors about his involvement in the incident when he began investigating.
Representing Avon and Somerset Police, Mark Ley-Morgan said PC James “fabricated his account” to give a “false impression of what he had done”.
He said: “PC James took exception to being flashed. The red mist descended.
“What would have happened if there hadn’t been any dashcam footage? It would have been Mr Lee’s word against a police officer. The consequences could have been devastating.
“Mr Lee’s livelihood was at risk. He has two young children.
“PC James abused his position and failed to act honestly.”
Mr Ley-Morgan said the findings amounted to operational dishonesty, and that would “reflect very badly” on Avon and Somerset Police.
He said it was vindictive and unnecessary for PC James to send a detailed account of the incident to the DVSA before Mr Lee had even appeared in court.
Mr Pakrooh said: “We don’t call people ‘grasses’ for reporting them to their professional body. There’s nothing inherently wrong in giving detail if you have detail to give.
“If what he’s saying is truthful, that’s his evidence. That isn’t the same as being vindictive.”
The misconduct panel found that PC James’ actions amounted to gross misconduct.
Panel chair Alex Lock said: “There were numerous points between the incident and Mr Lee’s court appearance for PC James to reflect on his actions.
“Harm will most likely be done to the reputation of the constabulary.
“We have found an officer who embellished evidence in relation to a member of the public, which resulted in that person being prosecuted, with the risk he may be convicted and lose his livelihood. There was potential for great harm to be done.
“We have little doubt the public would have a negative perception of PC James’ conduct, and it may undermine their trust in the police service.
“While we have considerable sympathy for PC James’ personal circumstances, following a divorce and being a provider, we concluded that summary dismissal is appropriate.”
Stephen Sumner, Local Democracy Reporter