Misconduct in Public Office
Misconduct in public office is a criminal offence which carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. It is an offence confined to those who are public office holders and is committed when the office holder acts, or fails to act , in a way that constitutes a breach of the duties of that office. Those that have been held to hold public office are Police officers Army officers ,Local Councillors or a District Judge amongst others.
The offence of misconduct in public office is committed when a public officer acting in that capacity wilfully neglects to perform his duty and/or wilfully misconducts himself to such a degree as to amount to an abuse of the public’s trust in the office holder without reasonable excuse or justification. Another party may be charged with the offence of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office.
A recent case was that of a former police officer with Wiltshire constabulary, Darren Jennings, who was found guilty at the Old Bailey for committing misconduct in public office and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for offering to sell a story to The Sun about his former colleague, a Sgt Andrews, who had been convicted at Oxford Magistrates’ Court of assault occasioning actual bodily harm but which conviction had, on appeal, been quashed.
Jennings had denied approaching the newspaper and requesting £10,000 for the story after Sgt Andrews had been arrested for an assault on a person in custody. Using a cover name of Robert Stone he emailed a journalist making crude comments about Sgt Andrews which included accusing him of having affairs with co-workers, a threesome with a male and female officer, frequenting strip clubs and exceeding his powers of restraining members of the public in the Police station, on one occasion knocking a woman’s head with force to a concrete floor.
At the time of offering the story to the journalist he mentioned that he had a lot to lose if he was discovered. The story, however, was not published and only came to light during the investigation carried out on The Sun as a consequence of the phone-hacking enquiry. He was linked to the Sun when his laptop and home phone were examined.
When interviewed by the Police he said he had problems with both Sgt Andrews and co-workers regarding his relationship with a woman officer, later his second wife, who he claimed, had told him that Sgt Andrews had made a pass at her.
When Jennings appeared in the witness box he was unable to pinpoint any particular colleague who he alleged might have tried to frame him by sending the email to the journalist under the name of Robert Stone, which he had used in the correspondence, and said been linked by them to his laptop.
After he was found guilty, Wiltshire Police Superintendent, Charlie Armstrong, commented that no action would be taken against any other police officer and that nothing further untoward had been discovered. He also said that by Jennings acting dishonestly for his own financial and personal advantage could have jeopardised current proceedings and impacted upon the lives of people whom he tried to sell information about to the journalist.