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Police ‘regularly’ signpost accident victims to law firms, ex-sergeant tells tribunal

A police officer who tried to signpost accident victims to his former law firm employer did not need to be sacked, a tribunal has found. Neil Clarke, who resigned as a police sergeant with Suffolk Police last year, also inappropriately shared information with a personal injury solicitor who he previously worked with.

A police misconduct hearing found that Clarke had promoted the firm’s services and breached the requirement that police officers do not compromise or abuse their position.

But while his judgement had been wrong, he had been seeking to act in good faith and the panel noted there was an ‘absence of clarity’ in terms of police force policy for signposting people to legal advice.

The tribunal heard in January that Clarke worked for three years with an unnamed Suffolk firm before joining the police in 2008. During his time with the firm, he met a solicitor referred to in the judgment as Person A who was now a non-equity partner.

Body-worn camera footage captured an exchange between Clarke and a doctor at the scene of a road traffic accident in April 2021. Clarke recognised the doctor from the scene of another accident where she had been injured and asked: ‘just out of interest forgive me for prying but [is a] lawyer dealing with the matter?’

Clarke then urged the doctor to transfer her case to Person A and when she said she was fine, he said: ‘You weren’t at the time, were you.’

In another matter, Clarke emailed the father of an RTA victim saying he would need a law firm to make a claim and setting out a list of four options, with his former firm at the top.

Clarke said he was simply ‘signposting’ as was common practice between the police and local firms of solicitors. He was driven entirely by his desire to help victims and their families at vulnerable, difficult moments in their life, and he emphasised in his email that it was a decision for the victim who they chose to instruct.

A statement from Person A said it was ‘generally accepted and confirmed’ by senior police figures that officers could give out names of local specialist law firms for the families to make a choice.

‘Cases signposted from police was in fact one of the main sources of work into the firms I worked at,’ said the solicitor in a statement to the tribunal. ‘I am aware this is the case for other law firms also. I would estimate the team I worked with received perhaps 200 or so cases via police nationally, which were signposted by about 40-50 different officers.’

Person A said not all police officers signposted to law firms and some were not in favour it, but at no point had any senior officer said there was a policy or guidance to prevent it. They added: ‘On the contrary, I was advised that signposting was acceptable, and indeed this was occurring regularly and directly to my colleagues and I, and to other firms across the country.’

The tribunal found that Clarke’s actions amounted to misconduct but made clear he received no financial benefit. He was motivated fundamentally by trying to help families at times of need and by a concern of the welfare of others.

‘By his act of encouragement towards families to use [Person A’s] legal services, he stepped decisively beyond signposting… his actions were ill-considered and undertaken without sufficient thought. That same absence of sufficient thought underpinned his casual and complacent approach.’

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