Policeman who bought Chesterfield homeless man £2 pack of biscuits faced being sacked

PC Martin Rothwell.
PC Martin Rothwell.

A Derbyshire policeman had to fight to save his job after paying £2 for biscuits a homeless man had stolen from a shop in Chesterfield.

The disciplinary case brought against Police Constable Martin Rothwell, said to be a “credit to the force”, has been branded a “total waste of money”.

PC Rothwell faced a gross misconduct hearing after admitting paying for the two packets of biscuits, which the homeless man had taken from a Poundland store.

The man was a prolific shoplifter and had been detained at the shop before police were then called.

PC Rothwell arrived and decided to pay for the goods and talk to the man outside, instead of arresting him, because he felt sorry for him and he wanted to make sure he had eaten.

Later, a Poundland employee reported PC Rothwell’s actions to his bosses and a police professional standards probe began, which resulted in the hearing, eight months after the incident on July 6 2016.

At the hearing, PC Rothwell admitted lying on the report of the incident.

He wrote on the report that the homeless man had found £2 to pay for the biscuits and no crime had been committed. However, he openly told colleagues what he had done.

Barrister Nahied Asjad, who was chairing the hearing, said that thousands of pounds had been spent on bringing it. She added: “What does it say about the police force and target-driven standards when a police officer feels the need to lie to close the case?”

However, Peter Goodman, Derbyshire police’s Deputy Chief Constable said the force has “no culture of targets”.

The hearing heard the homeless man was vulnerable, sleeps rough and is a “prolific shoplifter”.

Instead of arresting him, PC Rothwell took him outside and pointed him in the direction of soup kitchens and places of help.

PC Rothwell told the hearing that “nobody would know if the man died tomorrow”.

PC Rothwell admitted that on July 6, 2016, he failed to investigate the shop theft, paid the money himself and stated on the crime reporting system and to a control room that the homeless man had found £2 and no crime had been committed.

The actions amounted to misconduct and gross misconduct, which he accepted.

David Ring, who set out the case against PC Rothwell for the force, said the starting point for his actions “would have to be dismissal”.

He claimed that the officer had lied “in order to hide what he had done”. However, this was dismissed by the chair, who said his actions “did not amount to a cover-up”, because he had told other staff.

Ms Asjad said PC Rothwell showed the “highest degree of compassion” but said his actions were “unorthodox”.

She said: “Nobody in management spoke to him and explained what his mistake was. I have to question a lack of management in this case. This does not amount to a cover-up. He told two of his colleagues what he had done. Many thousands of pounds have been spent at this hearing.”

She said she had read evidence which described PC Rothwell as a “great team player” and “punctual”.

Before ruling that he should be given a written warning for 12 months, she said: “You’re a credit to the force.”

PC Rothwell said during the hearing: “Emotion is not something I regularly show. Having dealt with that person, I could not expect somebody to understand the emotion I had at that time. Thousands of hours and pounds have gone for something I have done. “

Talking after the hearing, Mark Pickard, chairman of the Derbyshire Police Federation, said he was pleased with the outcome.

He said: “I would estimate this case has cost tens of thousands of pounds. I believe the panel gave the correct outcome under the circumstances. They thoroughly read-up on the case.

“This has been going on for nine months while professional standards have carried out their enquiries.

“This was nine months and tens of thousands of pounds over £2 worth of biscuits.”

Mr Pickard added that if police investigated every incident they came across “the justice system would collapse” with the workload.

And Mid Derbyshire MP Pauline Latham said the case was a “total waste of money”.

Peter Goodman, Deputy Chief Constable of Derbyshire police, said: “This hearing was to consider evidence about the honesty and integrity of an officer.

“Our investigation into his actions arose from a complaint from a member of the public and we have a legal obligation to investigate.

“At the hearing the officer accepted that what he did amounted to gross misconduct and apologised for his actions.

“Police officers should uphold the highest standards but everyone makes mistakes. Other members of the organisation, and those involved, need to learn from those mistakes.

“The disciplinary panel, which was headed by an independent legal chair, decided to deal with this matter by way of a written warning.

“I think it’s important that our communities understand that there is no culture of targets within the force – something that the Chief Constable has been very vocal about both nationally and locally. Officers always have discretion about how they deal with incidents.”

The hearing was held on Monday.