NEWS
19/03/2021 19:29 GMT

Anger As Male Off-Duty Police Officer Avoids Jail For Assault On Woman

MP blasts system that "fails women" after Oliver Banfield was given a curfew.

A male off-duty police officer convicted of assaulting a woman has been spared a jail sentence, prompting criticism about a system that “fails women”.

PC Oliver Banfield, who serves with West Midlands Police, admitted a charge of assault by beating at a hearing in January.

On Friday, he was handed a curfew and ordered to pay compensation and costs at Leicester Magistrates’ Court. He has been suspended by the force and an investigation is examining an allegation of gross misconduct.

But there was dismay at the court’s decision. Labour MP and former cabinet minister Harriet Harman said that it showed the “system fails women and protects men”. 

Shocking CCTV footage of the incident has been obtained by Channel 4 News. The broadcaster also spoke to the victim, Emma Homer, who claimed she had to investigate the attack herself as she “wasn’t taken seriously”.

Banfield, 25, was given a 14-week curfew banning him from leaving his house between 7pm and 7am, and must pay £500 compensation together with a £95 victim surcharge and £85 court costs.

The magistrates’ punishment comes as police officers come under scrutiny following the death of Sarah Everard.

The footage shows Homer walking home alone after an evening out with friends when she was confronted by a man she had never met and tackled to the ground.

Banfield, a probationary officer, put Homer in a headlock and dragged her across the pavement, yelling: “On the floor now, on the floor now.”

The attack took place place close to Homer’s home in the Warwickshire village where she grew up. She says she is now too scared to walk the streets as Banfield lives around the corner. 

The woman heard on the footage trying to stop the attack is the police officer’s partner. 

Reacting to the sentence, Harman said on Twitter: “Policeman attacks woman walking home alone after dark.

“Must have been terrifying for her but no prison sentence.

“He continues in post. @WMPolice (West Midlands Police) must review.

“This is proof, if any needed, that system fails women and protects men.”

In a victim impact statement issued through a relative, Homer said the effects of the assault had left her with “anxiety, insomnia and stress” which had been “compounded by the slow response” from Warwickshire Police, the investigating force.

She hit out at Warwickshire Police’s initial handling of her complaint after she was attacked by a “drunk” Banfield while walking home at about 1am on July 26 2020.

She said that despite reporting the assault within hours of it happening, it took “more than 30 hours for an officer to take a telephone statement”, “nine days for an officer to come and see her” and “eight weeks for an officer to conduct house-to-house enquiries”.

Homer told Channel 4 News: “He got me on the floor.  It was like he was pretending to be in a cop film, calling for back up, how an officer would arrest somebody, like he was in a film.

“He got me on the floor, round the neck, screaming and shouting aggressively.

“I had to investigate myself, I found out there was a police officer called ‘Oli’ who lived around the corner.

“From the moment I reported the attack, I wasn’t taken seriously.”

She added: “I’m ok but not ok, I’ve never experienced anxiety before, never really understood it to be honest, until now, it’s messed with me quite a bit.”

The force has since personally apologised to Homer stating its “initial response to the report of the assault was not as swift as it should have been”.

Homer added that when the Warwickshire force presented a case file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) in September 2020, it was decided not to charge Banfield.

However, aided by the Women’s Justice Centre, Homer had the CPS’s decision reviewed and the CPS charged Banfield in December 2020.

He admitted assault by beating in court at Leamington Spa in January this year.

West Midlands Police said Banfield was “removed from public-facing duties after the assault” while a criminal investigation into the incident in Bidford-on-Avon was carried out by Warwickshire Police.

His employer force said that following the end of the criminal investigation, Banfield was immediately suspended pending the outcome of a disciplinary process into an allegation of gross misconduct against the officer.

West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson said it was “right that Oliver Banfield is now facing a gross misconduct investigation and has been suspended”.

He has asked the force’s chief constable, Sir David Thompson, to brief him “on the steps taken by West Midlands Police”.

Chief superintendent Ben Smith, of Warwickshire Police, said the force recognised “the strength of feeling that has come about as a result of Sarah Everard’s tragic death and understand the concerns relating to violence against women and girls nationally”.

He added the police was “aware of the concerns” around its handling of the case, had carried out a review and “responded to the complainant”.

He said: “We acknowledge that, due to internal process errors, the initial response to the report of the assault was not as swift as it should have been, and an apology has been issued with regards to this.

“A proportionate investigation was then conducted, which ultimately led to the charge and prosecution of the perpetrator.”

West Midlands district crown prosecutor Rachel Adams said: “The CPS takes violence against women and girls extremely seriously and will continue to robustly prosecute offences arising from this sort of behaviour.

“I authorised a charge of assault by beating against Oliver Banfield after a referral under the victim’s right to review process, and I have personally engaged with the victim and her family throughout the proceedings.”

Deputy chief constable Vanessa Jardine, of West Midlands Police, said: “Oliver Banfield was removed from public-facing police duties after the assault and while the investigation by Warwickshire Police was being carried out.

“To protect the criminal case we’ve not been able to carry out our own misconduct investigation until its conclusion.

“Now sentencing has taken place, our investigation will be carried out and Pc Banfield faces allegations of gross misconduct and is currently suspended.”

She added: “We understand the strength of feeling surrounding the desperately sad death of Sarah Everard and concerns on the issue of women’s safety but it would not be appropriate for us to comment further at this stage.

“Our role is to protect the public, who should be able to trust us. We therefore hold all our officers to the highest standards and we will take appropriate action against anyone whose actions fall below what is expected.”