Constable's Imprisonment for exploiting vulnerable woman brings 'shame on the force'

Constable Mark Goddard's double-life came crashing down when he was handed a two-year sentence back in July with half of it to be spent in prison.

This case is feeding into public concern over how some in power can abuse their position. His crime was developing a sexual relationship with a young, vulnerable woman he had arrested on suspicion of burglary.

That relationship was conducted off duty and also on the job. The judge branded his actions: "a gross breach of trust."

PSNI Deputy Chief Constable Mark Hamilton told UTV: "It's just wrong on every level. I'm sorry that this woman became victimised by a police officer. It's brought shame on the service.

The Police Ombudsman Marie Anderson helped to bring this officer to justice after it was referred to her by police themselves.

"There is definitely an issue around sexual exploitation of women by police officers," she admitted. "They're underreported because there's fear, there's fear about coming forward and actually there's fear about the criminal justice system, how they'll be treated."

Mark Hamilton assured UTV that the issue is being dealt with. "Do we take it seriously enough? We do," he insisted. "But can't we do better? We can. Should we do better? Absolutely."

Goddard and his young lover met at various locations, including his family home. Their affair lasted for one year.

The woman was a known drug-user with a criminal record and the relationship was consensual. But the judge was in no doubt that she had been exploited.

An example of that is perhaps the multitude of text messages that Goddard sent the woman. They numbered close to 10,000 more than 3000 of those were sent while he was on duty, supposedly fighting crime.

The graphic content of these messages is now part of a wider debate around sexual exploitation by partners and those in positions of power using social media.

There was a WhatsApp group in which Goddard shared that content with other officers, but once he was exposed, it was quickly deleted.

This issue is not a new one, but very much back in the spotlight after the brutal murder of Sarah Everard by a Metropolitan Police officer.

In Northern Ireland, in the last five years, almost 40 officers have been investigated over allegations of sexual misconduct but only four of those were upheld.

Now recent events have prompted police to look again internally, as well as to try to restore public confidence in how they tackle violence against women.

UTV's Sharon O'Neill asked Deputy Police Constable Mark Hamilton if he could guarantee that there are no more "Mark Goddards" or potential Wayne Couzens within the PSNI's ranks.

He replied: "I can guarantee we are determined to drive that sort of behaviour. I can guarantee we'll take it seriously. I can guarantee we'll carry out effective criminal investigations and I can guarantee we'll stand up to it."

Mark Goddard may no longer be a serving police officer, but it remains to be seen how the PSNI will repair the reputational damage that he, and others like him, have left on the force.