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Faversham: policeman Gary Wood sacked after inappropriately contacting suicidal woman on Facebook

By Anna MacSwan

A police officer has been sacked without notice after a suicidal woman was driven to self-harm by his unwanted Facebook advances.

PC Gary Wood, 52, contacted the 26-year-old through the social media site a day after he was called to her home following fears for her safety.

After she declined his friend request, he then sent her a message saying: "If you stop that cutting I'll buy you a few wines."

The hearing took place at Kent Police headquarters. (2952255)
The hearing took place at Kent Police headquarters. (2952255)

PC Wood, a former Faversham beat officer, was hauled before a misconduct hearing at Kent Police HQ on Monday.

A panel was told that in February he had been sent to the home of the woman, who was referred to only as Ms A, after concerns were raised that she could be about to take her own life.

She was found to have cut one of her arms and one of her legs with a razor blade, and told PC Wood she felt "really low and suicidal".

The next evening, PC Wood, an officer for 17 years, sought her out on Facebook and sent her the private message.

The following day PC Wood, who was based in Sittingbourne and worked across Swale, invited Ms A to meet in Wetherspoons.

The woman, who said she felt obliged to reply out of fear the officer would become angry and come to her house, told him: "I'm sorry, I don't think I can."

But he persisted, saying that the pair could "sit somewhere quiet" and "hide in a corner".

When she declined again, he offered to visit her at home.

PC Wood made the unwanted advances via Facebook messenger. (2975227)
PC Wood made the unwanted advances via Facebook messenger. (2975227)

As a result, Ms A, who complained to Kent Police about PC Wood's behaviour five days after the initial visit, self-harmed again, cutting her arm and her leg.

She considered his overtures an attempt to "groom" her.

PC Wood, who was found guilty of gross misconduct and dismissed without notice, told the panel he was driven to contact Ms A - who had been to Sittingbourne Memorial Hospital and referred to counselling - because of his own struggles with mental health.

"There was no intention or thought to start up any kind of sexual or other relationship," he said.

"I just wanted to make sure she was OK and getting the help she needed."

The officer, father to a seven-year-old daughter, said Ms A had "struck a chord in my mind" because he had suffered depression, including thoughts about self-harm, for several years and was still taking medication for it.

Unlike many cases he had been called to while on duty, "she was displaying a manner of calm, very similar to what I went through", adding that he had to take leave from work due to his illness.

The conversation between PC Wood and Ms A. (2975229)
The conversation between PC Wood and Ms A. (2975229)

But Matthew Holdcroft, presenting counsel, said: "The officer did not contact the Force Control Room, a hospital, any mental health services or a supervisor to alert them to the officer's alleged concerns for Ms A.

"The officer did not raise concern about Ms A with any third party or specialist care provider.

"Any professional steps that were available to you, you failed to take.

"If you had concerns for the safety of Ms A, the best thing to do would have been to make sure she got professional help."

The conversation between PC Wood and Ms A. (2975229)
The conversation between PC Wood and Ms A. (2975229)

The fact that PC Wood had been served with a 'Regulation 15 Notice' in April last year after asking another woman, Ms B, on a date via social media after identifying himself as a police officer was cited as evidence he was aware of the conduct expected of him.

Before the verdict was delivered, he apologised, saying: "I'm truly sorry to Ms A, for the distress and the anxiety I have caused her to feel. I take full responsibility for the mistakes I have made."

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