Society Magazine

The Cost of Caring – Sergeant Neil Salter Loses His Job

Posted on the 14 December 2011 by Minimumcover @minimumcover

A High Court ruling today has found that Sergeant Neil Salter must quit his job with Dorset Police after requesting the destruction of a mobile phone belonging to one of his colleagues, DC Ian Morton, who was killed in a car crash in 2008.

The Cost of Caring – Sergeant Neil Salter loses his job

PS Salter had 22 years service as a Police Officer, initially in West Yorkshire and subsequently Dorset (where he had spent 21 years). Prior to his Police career he had also served for 10 years in the Merchant Navy. Following the crash that took the life of his colleague, he had asked a fellow officer to destroy one of two mobile phones found in the vehicle driven by DC Morton as he knew there to be text messages on it that related to an affair the DC was having with an officer from another force.

His reasons for doing so were given at a tribunal held after the officer told to destroy the phone reported the request to senior officers. He stated that he had simply been attempting “to protect another officer’s family”.

The initial decision of Dorset Police in 2009 was to require PS Salter to resign. PS Salter subsequently won his case with the Police Appeals Tribunal in July 2010 and was reinstated with a reduction in rank to Constable. The PAT decision, which took into account the motivation of PS Salter being to save any further grief to the family of DC Morton, was subsequently challenged by the Chief Constable of Devon Police Martin Baker and the case moved to the High Court under Mr Justice Burnett.

It is the High Court that has ruled that a reduction in rank is not sufficient for the nature of the offense and that Neil Salter should, indeed, lose his job. Mr Justice Burnett stated that:

The misconduct was so serious it was not enough for Salter to be reduced to the rank of constable

There is no suggestion in any of the reports that I have read that the mobile phone was found to be evidential in respect of the cause of the crash or that there was anything on it that might have been of relevance to the investigation into DC Morton’s death. The phone was, in fact, never destroyed so the information on it has been available for interrogation.

Neil Salter has been given permission to refer the case to the Court of Appeal.

Whilst I agree that Police Officers have to be completely honest, open and transparent in their actions with regard to the investigation of offences and all aspects of their professional lives, I believe that the most appropriate decision was actually that of the Police Appeals Tribunal. Reduction in rank is a significant sanction for any officer and recognises both the nature of the request made to a junior officer and the motivation for doing so.

If we transfer the situation into civilian circumstances and make DC Morton the father in a family with PS Salter being his son or a close family friend who: 1) Knew of the affair and 2) knew that the discovery of it would bring considerable extra distress and heartache to his grieving widow, would we forgive him if he threw the phone in the nearest bin? I know I would….

The only difference in these two parallel situations is that one of them involves common sense and compassion, and the other involves the Police.  Would the destruction of the phone have had an adverse effect on the investigation of the crash? I don’t believe it would. Has the discovery of the affair added to the upset that DC Morton’s family has had to go through? Undoubtedly. Has the constant revival of the matter and the associated press intrusion meant that the family of DC Morton are still being reminded of the affair and been caused more than three years after the accident? Again, Yes.

I hope that this investigation can soon be put to bed, and that those involved (DC Morton’s family as well as Neil Salter and his own family) can be allowed to get on with their lives.

What would you have done? I would be interested to hear both Police and civilian points of view…

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