'I shouldn't have been dismissed from the police for misconduct'
PUBLISHED: 14:53 14 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:05 15 February 2018
Archant © 2018
A police officer, who made efforts to ensure his ex-wife's divorce solicitor received a harsher punishment for a driving offence, claimed today he should not have been dismissed from the force for "gross misconduct".
PC Nathan Lawn’s career with Norfolk police ended in May last year when a disciplinary hearing dismissed him.
They found he made a “concerted effort” to make sure his ex-wife’s divorce solicitor, whom he stopped for not wearing a seat belt, was fined.
He also admitted misconduct by pursuing a complaint against his ex-wife’s employers, the James Paget University Hospital in Gorleston.
But Mr Lawn feels he should not have been dismissed from the force. “I had an unblemished service for 17 years I am very angry about how I’ve been treated,” he said.
The saga began when he cleared out his house in August 2016. In boxes he found medical records for dozens of patients at the James Paget.
The 40-year-old contacted the hospital and told them he wanted to report it anonymously. He said the hospital told him they needed a name to investigate the possible data protection breach.
He gave them the documents and name and the hospital carried out an internal investigation, which found there was no wrongdoing.
But PC Lawn was not happy with the outcome. He felt his concerns had been dismissed and accused the hospital of a “whitewash”.
He said that fearing a cover-up he contacted his MP, senior hospital staff and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
The hospital then contacted the police about PC Lawn’s behaviour in pursuing the complaint.
“He (Mr Lawn) may try to harm us in terms of reputation,” one email sent between hospital staff said.
The police accused PC Lawn at the misconduct hearing last year of an “extended and committed campaign to discredit his ex-wife” through his complaint with the hospital.
He said that was never his intention. He believed the hospital should have contacted watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office, about the fact patient notes had been found in his house, believing this was a breach of data protection.
The hearing said he was right to return the notes to the hospital but had been guilty of misconduct in the way he pursued his complaint.
Mr Lawn admitted misconduct at the hearing, but said: “I’m entitled to challenge a public organisation as any member of the public is.”
The hearing found his conduct was “unreasonable and disproportionate”, but this was not enough to dismiss him.
However, Mr Lawn faced a second misconduct allegation at the hearing, which he denied, for stopping his ex-wife’s divorce solicitor in October 2016.
Officers from the police’s Professional Standards Department (PSD) investigated PC Lawn and alleged he had deliberately targeted the solicitor. Mr Lawn accused PSD of going on a “fishing expedition” against him.
Officers contacted the divorce solicitor about the incident when PC Lawn stopped her for not wearing a seatbelt when she was driving in Blofield.
The hearing agreed with Mr Lawn that he did not realise it was the divorce solicitor when he stopped her and he had never met her before.
“It was a coincidental stop during a routine patrol,” he said. “I pulled her over and didn’t know who she was. Then I realised when I asked her name and occupation who she was.”
He said he was in Blofield because there had been an attempted armed robbery at the Post Office a month before.
After the stop Mr Lawn contacted two officers to tell them about his link with the solicitor. The hearing decided this was “entirely appropriate” and had he taken no further action there would have been no misconduct.
The misconduct hearing cleared him of deliberately targeting her and being rude to her as alleged by police.
But they said he abused his “power and authority” by following up the case to give her a fine rather than the lesser punishment of a driver awareness course.
Mr Lawn said he recommended her for a fine because of her behaviour at the roadside.But the hearing’s chairman said he should not have had anything to do with the case after stopping her.
They said this was “gross misconduct serious enough to justify dismissal”.
Mr Lawn, meanwhile, raised concerns about the way PSD went about investigating him.
The solicitor herself did not complain about Mr Lawn at the time, only after she had been approached by PSD officers who told her she would remain anonymous. But it was for the hearing to decide whether she should be anonymous and not the police.
“I feel there was a lack of integrity within the anti-corruption unit in my case,” he said. “I have had a meeting with Deputy Chief Constable Nick Dean to address my concerns.
“I don’t know how they can treat a member of staff after 17 years like that.”
He said he was in a stressed mental state at the time from his divorce. “I should’ve had support from Norfolk police,” he said.
Mr Lawn still disputes the findings but looking ahead he said he would like to go back to university.
A police spokesman said Mr Lawn made appeals against the findings of the hearing to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the Police Appeals Tribunal, both of whom upheld the decision.
They added: “The Constabulary is confident that Mr Lawn’s case was investigated appropriately and that his appeals were considered in accordance with regulations.”
A James Paget hospital spokesman said: “When the allegations were received they were taken very seriously and fully investigated. Mr Lawn indicated he was unhappy with the outcome so a further internal review was undertaken by a senior manager not previously involved in the case. This second review confirmed that the allegations had been properly investigated.
“The relevant professional body was also satisfied that the Trust’s response was appropriate.”