How We Hold Sexual Abuse by Police to Account

I can’t thank Kevin Donaghue and his firm enough for representing me in a Police compensation claim. The process was conducted in an empathic and extremely professional manner and I was updated at every stage. The compensation awarded and apology letter from the Police exceeded my expectations. I would recommend this practice to anyone seeking compensation from the Police force.

Samantha McTavish


Client: Samantha McTavish

Claim: Civil actions against the police for:

  • sexual harassment (as defined in the Equality Act 2010)
  • misfeasance in public office.

Claimant’s lawyer: Kevin Donoghue, Solicitor

Defendant: Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police

Result: Significant compensation (multiple five figures), a formal written apology, plus legal costs.

Sam McTavish has kindly allowed us to use her details. This account is based on her version of events, some of which is disputed.

CAUTION: This case report includes references to sexual abuse.

What happened?

Samantha McTavish is a single mother who lives in Devon.

In October 2017, she had a breakdown and needed ongoing support for depression. Sam told her local Council about it.

Council staff asked Devon & Cornwall Police to conduct a welfare check. A male police sergeant was given the task and went to Ms McTavish’s home alone.

Sam felt that she was over the worst by the time the officer attended. She assured him that she was doing better and that her welfare was no longer a concern. But the sergeant was attentive while they sat and chatted over coffee. The conversation turned to relationships, even though this topic was unrelated to the visit. The police officer told Sam that he was in an unhappy marriage. She confirmed she was single.

After the visit, the officer completed a “VIST” vulnerability and risk assessment form, on which he noted that Sam was vulnerable because of her history of depression and traumatic past.

The policeman followed up with multiple text messages, unsolicited home visits, and emails over the coming months. The police officer “groomed” her, by methodically and deliberately developing a relationship, even though Sam was not attracted to him and did not want to get involved with a married man. She tried to rebuff him and remind him of his professional obligations, saying in one text message, “we cannot violate our ethics, our own internal moral code, and expect to find happiness.”

But the officer persisted, and over time the relationship became sexual. Sam became increasingly uncomfortable with the affair and broke it off in January 2018.

She felt used, and abused, by the officer and reported matters to his employers, Devon & Cornwall Police. The Independent Office for Police Conduct investigated and recommended that the force bring disciplinary proceedings against the sergeant.

The sergeant resigned before he could be dismissed for gross misconduct, which was found at a disciplinary hearing in November 2018. Remarkably, despite the Misconduct Panel’s finding, the Chief Constable said that the officer, “closed his career with professionalism and dignity indicative with the manner in which he has conducted himself during his 34 years service…”

Photo of Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor who holds sexual abuse by police to account.

Kevin Donoghue helped a client hold Devon and Cornwall Police to account after she was sexually abused by a police sergeant.

Instructing Solicitors to Pursue a Sexual Abuse by Police Claim

Sam found that it was impossible to move on. She:

  • was disgusted that the sergeant was allowed to resign before being dismissed and hurt by the Chief Constable’s comments which seemed to ignore the issue
  • wanted to hold the police officer who groomed and sexually abused her, and his employers, to account
  • wanted to raise awareness, so that others did not have to suffer as she did.

So, like many others who sadly find themselves in this situation, she went online and researched the topic. There she found Donoghue Solicitors, and noted that we help people throughout England and Wales with police abuse of authority for sexual gain compensation claims.

In November 2021, more than four years after her first contact with the sergeant, Sam contacted us. She spoke to Kevin Donoghue, a solicitor with over 20 years’ experience in the law. Kevin:

  1. assured Ms McTavish that she should not feel any guilt or shame for what happened. In fact, the police officer was to blame for this gross abuse of powers for a sexual purpose.
  2. explained that Sam had a legal right to pursue sexual abuse compensation claims relating to the officer’s corrupt misconduct
  3. agreed to take her case on a “no win no fee” basis, which meant that she did not have to pay legal fees up front to start her civil action against the police.

Legal Claims for Police Sexual Abuse

Mr. Donoghue sent details of his client’s claim to the Chief Constable of Devon & Cornwall Police. He alleged that the force was liable for the actions of the sergeant relying on the doctrine of vicarious liability and statutory law as set out in the Police Act.

Kevin argued that the police were liable to compensate his client for:

1.     Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is defined in s.26 of the Equality Act (2010). Mr. Donoghue explained that, among other things, the sergeant’s predatory behaviour (for example, sending text messages and emails and unwanted sexual advances) amounted to harassment. He also pointed out that the Protection from Harassment Act (1997) gives victims like Sam the legal right to seek compensation.

2.     Misfeasance in Public Office

Kevin explained that the police officer was acting in the course of his public office when he groomed Sam into a sexual relationship. He knew, or was recklessly indifferent, as to whether he had the power to act as he did, and to the likelihood that he would injure Sam as a result.

Mr. Donoghue sought compensation, which is the appropriate legal remedy in police sexual abuse cases, for Sam’s personal injury, humiliation, acute distress, and anxiety. (Read more details about the law on misfeasance in public office to find out why Kevin advised Sam to claim for it.)

Devon and Cornwall Police Response

The police accepted that the officer’s actions amounted to “gross misconduct”. Mr. Donoghue expected this, given the findings of its own Disciplinary and Misconduct Panel.

Then, as often happens in these claims, Devon & Cornwall Police denied liability for Sam’s claim. They argued a technical point, saying that the sergeant was not exercising his executive or administrative powers. This meant that, in their opinion, the claims for sexual harassment and misfeasance in public office would fail.

Medical Evidence Proves Compensation Claims Against the Police

Legal responsibility was in dispute, but Kevin was still confident about his client’s claim. So, he prepared her case for trial by arranging for Sam to meet with an expert Chartered Psychologist. The independent medical expert would help the court find out if there was a link between the police officer’s gross misconduct and Sam’s symptoms. If so, to what extent and for how long?

The doctor conducted a thorough examination via video link so that Sam did not have to travel. She prepared a detailed medical report for the court noting that, in her expert opinion, Sam’s pre-existing low mood/ depressive symptoms were made clinically worse by the police officer’s abuse.

Settlement Negotiations

In the meantime, Kevin entered negotiations with the police to settle Sam’s claim, despite their denial of liability. Formal “Part 36” offers to settle were exchanged by both sides. He also sought a written apology from Devon & Cornwall Police. Mr. Donoghue explained to Sam that this was not guaranteed because the police are reluctant to admit fault. But, while the courts do not have the power to order apologies, they can be agreed in exceptional cases.

Protective Court Proceedings

The delay between the police officer’s abuse and Sam contacting Mr. Donoghue meant that the lawyer was under some time pressure. Strict time limits apply in actions against the police. The limitation period on claims based in personal injury like Sam’s is three years. Knowing this, Mr. Donoghue issued “protective proceedings” in court to preserve her claim.


With her legal case progressing, Sam bravely followed through on her pledge to raise awareness by going public. She recorded an on-camera interview with BBC Newsnight which you can watch here. With her permission, Mr. Donoghue wrote a companion blog post to help highlight the issue of police grooming: How Police Officers Groom People for Sexual Abuse.

Result in This Sexual Abuse by Police Claim

In June 2022, less than seven months after Sam first contacted Donoghue Solicitors, Kevin settled Ms McTavish’s compensation claim. She received:

  1. a substantial compensation award, which was for multiple five figures
  2. her legal costs
  3. a formal written apology from Devon & Cornwall Police. Written by James (Jim) Colwell, Deputy Chief Constable (later promoted to Temporary Chief Constable), it showed that the force accepted responsibility for what happened, and that the police’s earlier denial of liability was entirely without merit. T/Chief Constable Colwell said:

I have been made aware of the claim for compensation that has arisen out of the actions of former Police Sergeant Andrew Woodward in relation to his inappropriate dealings with you.

I would like to take this opportunity to offer you a sincere apology on behalf of Devon and Cornwall Police in relation to these matters.

The actions of former PS Woodward were wholly unacceptable and it is deeply regrettable that he was able to misuse such a trusted role within the community.

As an organisation, this matter was naturally treated with the utmost seriousness and dealt with by way of Professional Standards Department and IOPC investigation, which resulted in a Special Case hearing and a determination that the conduct amounted to Gross Misconduct and had he not already resigned former PS Woodward would have been dismissed. In addition, his name was added to the police barred list.

We wish to reassure you that we have introduced Force policies on appropriate relationships and embedded the police code of ethics through a comprehensive training programme to all staff and officers. We have developed methods through which officers and staff can report potential wrongdoing and concerns as well as the support we provide to them. We have also issued guidance to supervisors on the potential signs to look out for and we regularly repeat internal communications to reinforce our expectations.

This is an issue we have and will continue to take extremely seriously. We take every step necessary to ensure that any cases that are raised with us, or which we proactively identify, are thoroughly investigated and that appropriate measures are put in place to try to prevent future occurrences.

I would also like to take this opportunity to offer you my best wishes for the future.

And, importantly for Sam, she also:

  • avoided the stress of a court trial which might have involved seeing the (now former) sergeant again
  • got justice, allowing her to start to heal and move on with her life.

The last word goes to Ms McTavish, who wrote to Mr. Donoghue after he called her to confirm settlement. She said:

Dear Kevin,

Thank you for your e-mail and taking the time to speak with me this evening regards this.

I cannot thank you enough for agreeing to represent me, for your sincere empathy and professionalism.

The outcome has far exceeded my expectations. Thank you.

I have left a 5 star review on your website and signed the document agreeing to your firm using my case for any publications. It is my absolute pleasure to do so.

I look forward to hearing from you in due course and again thank you for all you have done for me.

Kind regards,


Contact Donoghue Solicitors if you have suffered sexual abuse by police and want help to hold them to account. Use our short online form or call us confidentially on (freephone) 08000 124 246 or 0151 236 1336. We help with any police force based in England & Wales.