1. ITV Report

Police sergeant keeps job after sex offender documents found in a skip

Credit: North News and Pictures / ITV Tyne Tees

A police sergeant has kept his job despite him being found guilty of gross misconduct after sensitive information about sex offenders ended up in a skip.

Martin Skirving-Chehab, a Cleveland Police officer for 15 years whose work has been officially commended twice, will receive a final written warning for breaching professional standards when he took two Lidl carrier bags of material home from a police unit for managing sex offenders.

His mother-in-law accidentally put some of the documents in the household recycling and a workbook he used was found in a skip by a dog walker and passed on to The Sun newspaper last June.

The sensitive documents included personal details of sex offenders and their victims Credit: North News and Pictures

The officer was in the maternity unit with his wife who had just given birth to their first child when he was contacted by a superior officer about the serious security breach.

On the third day of a disciplinary hearing, the hearing chairman Jayne Salt said:

The panel has decided that the conduct amounts to gross misconduct because there was a sustained failure to take data protection seriously, leading to significant reputational harm to the police and a risk of serious harm to members of the public - namely 55 registered sex offenders whose data was allowed to enter the public domain.

– Hearing chairman Jayne Salt
The skip on a public street in which the documents were found Credit: North News and Pictures

After hearing submissions by counsel for the force and for the 42-year-old sergeant, the panel decided a final written warning was appropriate.

Joan Smith, for Cleveland Police, had recommended that Sgt Skirving-Chehab, who used to work in sex offender management before becoming a family liaison officer dealing with murder cases, should receive that level of reprimand.

He had removed the documents from the Middlesbrough sex offender unit while he was on a day off after meeting a superior about a job opportunity.

He then stored them at his Hartlepool home, which was being renovated, for some weeks and they ended up in his kitchen.

The hearing was told he should have sorted the papers at work and disposed of them appropriately so there was no risk of them escaping into the public domain.

Mr Skirving-Chehab will remain an officer with Cleveland Police Credit: ITV Tyne Tees

Nicholas Walker, for Mr Skirving-Chehab, had argued the public would not be best served by losing such a good officer.

Mr Walker said the officer had received commendations for his work in helping the family of murdered pensioner Norma Bell, and saving an elderly woman with dementia from the North Sea.

One of Mrs Bell's sons wrote to the hearing to commend his work, saying: "It's difficult to put into words how grateful my family and I still are for him helping us through the most difficult of experiences."

The panel said that written reference was particularly persuasive as Mr Skirving-Chehab had changed the son's perception of the police for the good.

Mr Walker said the officer had spent 18 months - the entirety of his baby's life - with the disciplinary hearing hanging over him, and he had suffered from stress but managed to keep going in his career, despite being on restricted duties.

Mr Walker had urged the hearing at the Grand Hotel, Hartlepool, to give him a written warning.

  • The Independent Office for Police Conduct Interim Regional Director, David Ford said:

Police forces across the country handle highly sensitive information about historic and ongoing investigations as part of their routine activities, however this case highlights how police officers cannot afford to become complacent about how such data is stored, handled and disposed of.

We carried out a detailed investigation into the circumstances of this serious data breach and provided the panel overseeing the hearing with a great deal of evidence, which they were able to use to inform their conclusions alongside the live evidence they heard during the hearing.

It is our role to follow the evidence with impartiality and to provide our conclusions to the force, not to oversee any subsequent disciplinary process. In this particular case it was vital for public confidence that this incident was investigated by us independently of the force.

We recognise that Cleveland Police has apologised to those individuals who were affected by this data breach and we have recommended that they also review their data protection policies.

  • The Director of Standards and Ethics at Cleveland Police, Cristiana Emsley said:

The public rightly expects that police personnel manage information responsibly and do not put the public at risk by any mismanagement of data, through negligence or deliberate action.

Today’s conclusion provides the public with a credible outcome of independent scrutiny by both the Independent Office for Police Conduct and a panel led by a Legally Qualified Chair into the actions of Sgt Skirving-Chehab; the level of sanction is indicative of the officer’s learning from this incident and therefore, he can continue his role.

The result of the hearing should be a warning to our workforce that any mishandling of sensitive data can have serious consequences. Whilst it is accepted that police personnel may take data off police premises, it is their utmost responsibility to ensure it is secured and managed appropriately at all times.

A Force-wide compliance plan has already been put in place and this is being monitored by a dedicated Data Protection Auditor.

On this note, I would like to thank the Force’s Data Protection Officer, whose comprehensive measures in the aftermath of this incident ensured the associated risk was effectively mitigated.

– Cleveland Police