Decision : Upheld
Decision date : 07 Jun 2017
The Ombudsman's final decision:
Summary: The Community Protection Officer acted in line with his job description and training. Therefore, where there is no evidence of fault, the Ombudsman will not challenge the merits of a professional judgment. But the Council has accepted that at times it was insensitive when it responded to Ms B’s complaint and apologised.
- The complainant, Ms B, complains that the Council’s Community Protection Officer (CPO) failed to prevent her from being sexually assaulted, despite asking for help a few minutes earlier. She also complains that the Council has ‘victim blamed’ her when dealing with her complaint.
The Ombudsman’s role and powers
- We investigate complaints of injustice caused by maladministration and service failure. I have used the word fault to refer to these. We cannot question whether a council’s decision is right or wrong simply because the complainant disagrees with it. We must consider whether there was fault in the way the decision was reached. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
- If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)
How I considered this complaint
- I have:
- Read the papers submitted by Ms B and discussed the complaint with her.
- Considered the Council’s comments about the complaint and the supporting documents it provided.
- Shared my draft decision with Ms B and the Council and considered their responses.
What I found
- The Council has a community protection service set up in partnership with Nottingham Police to tackle antisocial behaviour and environmental crime. It employs over 100 CPOs to provide a visible presence in the area. CPOs have the power to issue Civil Orders, Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) and Penalty Notice for Disorder (PND). They do not have any powers of arrest.
- The job description and specification for the role states that CPOs should (key points linked to this complaint):
- “Enforce using delegated and accredited powers on a range of civil and criminal matters as directed.
- Conduct regular street patrols across days, evening, nights and weekends within designated areas of the City, aimed at tackling criminal activity, taking enforcement action in respect of preventing environmental crime, dealing with anti-social behaviour.
- To work in partnership with Nottinghamshire Police via the control room using the police airway radio system
- Have the ability to use initiative and respond to urgent situations”.
Events leading to the complaint
- Ms B was followed home by a drunken man who then sexually assaulted her. Ms B had earlier approached a man in uniform who she thought was a Police Community Support Officer (PCSO), because he was wearing a uniform and stood outside of a police station, and told him that she was being followed.
- Ms B states that she then walked away because she thought that the PCSO was going to arrest the man. It transpired that the officer was not a PCSO but was a CPO.
- The CPO spoke to the man to ‘put some distance between him and Ms B’ but then the man walked off and continued to follow Ms B. The CPO decided to continue to follow the man and witnessed him pick up his pace to approach Ms B and then sexually assault her. When the CPO witnessed the sexual assault he radioed the police and approached the man to ensure he did not leave before the police arrived. Ms B disagrees, she sates that the CPO did not approach the offender he stayed in one place while he waited for the police. Ms B crossed the road to try and get support from members of the public because she was distressed. The man was arrested by the police and imprisoned.
Ms B complained to the Council and Ombudsman
- Ms B complained to the Council because she believes that she was failed by the CPO. She considers that the CPO should have made a citizen’s arrest; could have taken her to a place of safety; or called a colleague to escort her to safety. If he could not help her, Ms B feels that the CPO should have told her this and directed her to the police station which is nearby. Ms B considers that the CPO should have spoken to her to risk assess the situation. Ms B also complained that CPOs look like police officers and the Council does not do enough to make it clear what their roles are.
- The Council says its officer did his best to assist Ms B. The CPO approached the man thus allowing Ms B to continue. It acknowledged with hindsight, different actions by the CPO might have changed the outcome but it considers its officer acted appropriately at the time. The Council says the CPO spoke to the attacker and asked him to leave the area. When the CPO realised the man was still behind Ms B he quickly maintained sight contact and immediately called for police assistance.
- Ms B complains that while the Council was dealing with her complaint it continued to victim blame her by stating that she should have gone into the police station and arranging a meeting without a female officer being present. She states that this demonstrates that the Council has failed to understand the impact the sexual assault has had on her. The Council accepted that some of its comments to Ms B while dealing with her complaint were insensitive and apologised.
- Ms B remained dissatisfied with the Council’s response and approached the Ombudsman for further consideration. The Council maintained to the Ombudsman that the CPO acted appropriately by immediately contacting the police, who respond to sexual assault offences. It also said that it was appropriate for the CPO officer to stay with the man to ensure he was apprehended by the police rather than approach Ms B. Ms B disagrees that the CPO stayed with the offender so he could have gone over to her to comfort her.
- The Council explained that CPO officers undertake an eight week training course delivered by experienced officers, an external agency and Nottingham police. The training covers use of the police radio, job specific training around anti-social behaviour and how to risk assess a situation. The Council also provided evidence of information available to the public about CPO roles.
- I understand Ms B’s concerns that the CPO should have acted differently when she asked for his help. While it is correct that the CPO could have taken a range of different actions which may have prevented the sexual assault taking place. I cannot criticise the decisions the CPO did make because there is no evidence of procedural fault. He acted in line with his job specification and followed the training he had been given which states that officers should use their own initiative and assess situations; which he did. The CPO made a professional judgement when he should contact the police and whether he should go over and assist Ms B or wait with the perpetrator after the sexual assault occurred.
- The Ombudsman will not challenge the merits of a professional judgement decision where there is no evidence of fault. I am also satisfied that the Council provides CPOs with adequate training to respond to urgent situations.
- The Council has acknowledged that when dealing with Ms B’s complaint some of its comments have been insensitive and apologised. The Council should have been more aware of the distress Ms B experienced as a result of the sexual assault when it responded to her complaint.
- The CPO officer acted in line with his job description and training. Therefore, where there is no evidence of fault, the Ombudsman will not challenge the merits of a professional judgment. But the Council has accepted that at times it was insensitive when it responded to Ms B’s complaint and apologised. Therefore I have completed my investigation.
Investigator’s decision on behalf of the Ombudsman
Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman