Burnley police officer cleared of sexual assault charges
A Burnley police officer accused of sexually molesting five female colleagues was this afternoon cleared.
A jury found PC Anthony Ford not guilty of all 13 offences of sexual assault but a senior judge told him that he needed to address his appalling prehistoric attitudes towards women.
Before allowing the 32-year-old officer to leave the dock Judge Andrew Menary, QC, the Recorder of Liverpool told him: “You leave the court as you entered - a man with no previous convictions.
“But I say to you you should not take the verdicts of the jury as some verdict, by your own admission, on how you behaved in the past. There is much more to being a police officer than chasing around after drug dealers.”
Judge Menary said: “I don’t know what is going to happen to you, as I say you have been found not guilty and I don’t know if there are pending disciplinary proceedings or not.
“But at the very least I would think that those responsible for you in the police force ought to send you for some sort of diversity training because by own judgement your prehistoric attitudes towards women are quite appalling and you need to consider the way you behaved otherwise you will find yourself at risk of a similar situation in the future.”
When the jury of eight women and three men delivered their unanimous verdicts following three hours 26 minutes deliberations one of the females wiped away tears and another smiled over at Ford. His wife, who is also a police officer, broke down in tears in the public gallery.
The constable, from Preston, faced trial at Liverpool Crown Court facing 13 offences of sexual assault in 2018 and 2019. He firmly denied the offences and claimed his behaviour only involved jokey and flirtatious banter.
Prosecutor Fiona McNeill had alleged that the offences involved “unsophisticated and serial groping. He had no regard for appropriate boundaries.”
She told the jury the Crown claimed “his sole driving force was momentary gratification…..A damn fine officer he may be but that does not place him above the law.”
During his trial it was claimed that his behaviour included putting his hand down the back of victims’ trousers, touching their bottoms, undoing the clasps of the bras of two women and walking down the street cupping the breasts of one of them.
Ford, who was then based in Burnley, disputed the women’s evidence and denied that any of his actions were sexually motivated.
Questioned by Miss McNeill he agreed he was a proactive officer, but denied being arrogant. “I am confident but I would not describe myself as arrogant,” he said.
He said he had been surprised at the complaints “particularly having ten years unblemished career and then five people come forward within a few weeks.”
Ford said: “I never touched a bum except for a laugh or someone had done it to me.”.
He described it as “a laugh and a joke between people I deemed on a similar wave length to him or had done it to me first.”
He said that unclipping bras was “a bit of a childish joke” and said such behaviour happened “on many police do’s”. He also claimed that officers touched each others bottoms in the police station “quite regularly”.
He denied it was behaviour he could not control and described two of the alleged victims as “flirtatious”. He denied cupping the breasts of one woman and said that he only touched them later to check they were real but that was with her consent.
“Do you feel you have done anything wrong in relation to these women?” asked Miss McNeill. “No,” he replied.
Richard Orme (defending) had told the jury in his closing speech that Ford was “being made an example of by the politically correct brigade of the police and they have sought to find anything and everything to throw at him.”
He went on to describe the case as “absurd and ridiculous and blown out of all common sense in the brave new world in which we live now.”
Mr Orme said that Ford is “an extrovert and a live wire, particularly in drink and with friends. He has a child-like exuberance”
He said that a witness had described the defendant as “like a five-year-old on speed who would never run out of energy.”
He had demonstrated tactile behaviour with both men and women and has “a cheeky sense of humour - or used to before this sorry saga.
“Do not hold those personality traits against him, they don’t make him a sex offender. He could be over-familiar, over-tactile but that is a million miles away from making him a sex offender.”