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Two police officers who sat watching Netflix in a missing woman’s home and ‘chilled’ for four hours have been told they will not face any disciplinary action beyond being asked to ‘reflect’.
Abbygail Lawton, 21, from Wigan, was in the midst of a mental health crisis when ambulance services raised the alarm about her welfare, calling in the police for backup.
Two male and one female officer from Greater Manchester Police were sent to her home and after searching it confirmed she wasn’t there.
The two male officers were tasked with waiting at her home in case she returned and then made themselves comfortable, sitting on her sofa with their feet up while scrolling through Ms Lawton’s TV trying to find a series of Come Dine with Me to watch. One of them used her dumbbells.
Ms Lawton had complained about their conduct but today GMP’s Professional Standards said they were not going to discipline the trio.
They said the officers needed to remain at her house for safeguarding reasons in case she returned while other officers and a helicopter searched for her.
The two officers have been told their behaviour ‘did not breach the standards of professional behaviour’ but they should reflect on how they had appeared. And Ms Lawton has been told she can appeal their decision.
A spokesperson for GMP’s Professional Standards said: ‘Greater Manchester is a busy jurisdiction and there is always a 999 call to respond to so it’s understandable that the publication of these CCTV images without explanation could undermine public trust and confidence.
‘What the CCTV leaves unsaid is that the officers’ attendance at the property over a prolonged period of time had been agreed with those leading the operation to ensure that the female was safeguarded should she return to the property, as she had indicated she was trying to.
‘The officers have been spoken to and understand that, whilst the television had been left on and dumbbells left out, they should have refrained from watching it or using them whilst they were deployed to the location.’
Ms Lawton, a mother-of-one, had been missing for 11 hours before she was found by two other officers. She was then ‘arrested for wasting police time’ and spent 12 hours in police custody.
It was only when she finally returned home that she re-watched the CCTV footage which she claims shows the two male officers ‘mocking’ her.
Sitting in her lounge, the pair had made comments about how she had recently watched The Boy in Striped Pyjamas, started working out and even looked directly into the camera to say ‘Hello Abbygail, I know you’re watching us’.
Two male officers and a female officer arrived at her home just before 10pm on January 3. After carrying out the search the female officer allegedly told her colleagues ‘you might as well chill here in case she comes back’ before explaining that she would leave the door on the latch.
Ms Lawton revealed to MailOnline the conversations the officers allegedly had in her home.
Ms Lawton said: ‘When she left the address the two male officers came in and turned on Netflix on my TV, making comments about what I had watched.
‘They made comments that I’d watched the Boy in Striped Pyjamas – which I had previously – and another series I’d watched.
‘Then they say ‘we could so with watching something like Come Dine With Me’ before the other officer sees Dog’s Behaving Badly and starts saying how ‘it’s quite good’.
‘They then choose something on Netflix and start watching TV. One of the officers then gets my dumbbell and starts doing weights, which you can see in the footage, before sitting back down.’
Ms Lawton had been alerted on her phone that there had been movement in her home and was furious that they had invaded her privacy while sitting around doing nothing.
The officers then hear on their radios that the sergeant is on the phone to Ms Lawton to try and locate her.
‘The two officers found out I was speaking to the sergeant on the phone and made a comment that said ‘she’s happy to speak to the sergeant on the phone but not happy to be found’,’ she explained.
‘I was in the woods really struggling, I had overdosed before I left and was in a really bad mental health crisis.
‘The officers had heard through the radio that I had been watching them through CCTV cameras because I told the sergeant I was not happy because they were in my home while I was not there and because they were sitting on my sofa watching TV.
‘Then one officer goes up to the camera and says ‘hello Abbygail I know you’re watching us’ then sits back on the sofa which is again inappropriate.’
Ms Lawton claimed the officers also carried out a data breach as they left their radios on loud so she could hear all of the other crimes being reported in the area, including victims and criminals names, ages and addresses.
An investigation has since been launched by Greater Manchester Police’s professional standards department, who are looking into the officers who sat in her home for hours as well as the female officer who initially told them to ‘chill’.
The force is also investigating the use of force by other officers as Ms Lawton was arrested and why she was taken to custody while suffering from a mental health crisis.
After sending out two police helicopters, Ms Lawton had been found in the woods around 4am by a male and female police officer.
When she refused to get into the police car she claims the male officer put two hands on her and shoved her into the back of a police car.
Ms Lawton added: ‘I was crying my eyes out as I was really distressed and he said to me ‘I’ve got no sympathy for you crying, you’ve wasted my time by me looking for you for five hours’.’
The sergeant had told her she would be taken to hospital but instead she was taken to custody.
‘I spent 12 hours in custody. I arrived at 5am and got released at 5pm on the 4th,’ she said.
‘During my interview a female police officer asked ‘how would you feel if there were no police officers available for emergencies because they were all out looking for you?’
‘At this point I hadn’t seen the footage of the officers sitting on my sofa but they are clearly not that busy if they are looking for me sitting on the sofa watching TV.
‘Obviously that comment distressed me as I didn’t mean to waste police time or cause distress and obviously I was in a mental health crisis.’
A mental health nurse who came to visit during the ordeal urged her to make a formal complaint, adding that she should have been taken to hospital instead.
The force is now investigating the general level of service from officers, with regards to them watching television and using gym equipment.
They are also investigating allegations of unprofessional attitude and disrespect, use of force, power to arrest and detain as well as impolite language and tone.
Ms Lawton added: ‘I am ashamed of the police officers. Being wrongly arrested it causes trauma and going into custody it is horrible being in a cell – you can’t do anything.
‘You have no privacy because they are watching you on cameras, they watch you go to the toilet. That itself has made me lose trust in the police because I assume they are going to arrest me again when I’ve done nothing wrong.
‘I’m disappointed and ashamed by the two officers sitting watching TV, the comments that they made and how they acted at my property. I’ve not given them consent to be in my house or watch TV or use my gym equipment.
‘It was as though they were mocking me and taking the mick while I was out in the woods in a crisis, the weather was awful that day, raining and cold, I was clearly having a mental health crisis and they were just sat here watching TV as if to say ‘f*** it, we don’t care if she’s missing’.
Greater Manchester Police have been contacted for a statement.
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Eirian Jane Prosser