March police officer in court on sexual assault charges

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A detective exploited his rank by kissing, touching and stroking junior women officers and pushing his body against them, a jury heard today (Wednesday, November 19).

Det Sgt Matthew Swash, 40, also allegedly ‘checked out’ female crime victims, leading to one woman falling prey to his sexual advances.

Swash, who began working for Cambridgeshire police in 1996, was made a Detective Sergeant in 2001. The officer, from Crown Close, March, denies 12 charges of sexual assault against five women and two of misconduct in a judicial or public office alleged to have been committed between December 2009 and September last year.

Opening the case at St Albans crown court, prosecutor Peter Shaw said: “He exploited his position as a police officer to commit sexual offences against women officers.

“It is no coincidence that all of the officers he assaulted were junior to him in rank. This was not a cast-iron method of ensuring complete impunity, of course, but it meant that those officers were much less likely to rock the boat by accusing a more senior and popular officer of such things.

“They were women with their own ambitions, their need to be accepted at work, and ultimately their own need to earn a salary and pay the mortgage.”

He told the jury of seven men and five women that Det Sgt Swash also targeted female civilians who were victims of crimes.

Mr Shaw went on: “It was, it seems likely, in order to satisfy his curiosity as to whether he might be interested in them as potential targets of his uninvited sexual advance. Essentially he was ‘checking them out’, to adopt the modern phrase. Some civilians were unluckier still: one such civilian fell prey to his sexual advances.”

He said Swash had a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ character and was addicted to sexual and romantic intrigue. He said four of his fellow police officers were alleged victims and the other was a civilian who had sought the advice of the police in relation to her foster daughter.

“The assaults in the main consisted of him kissing the victims, sometimes very forcefully, and sometimes pushing his body against theirs where it was apparent he had an erection.

“None of these were harmless or trivial acts. They invariably left the recipients feeling upset, and perplexed as to how they were to deal with the situation of a senior officer acting in such a way.”

He said the other counts of misconduct in public office related to him accessing police systems in relation to victims, visiting them and sending them inappropriate text messages. However, even those offences took place to satisfy a romantic or sexual curiosity and the fact they were victims of crime was no effective deterrent to him.”

Mr Shaw said that after a Peterborough CID Christmas party in 2009, a 29 year old married junior officer saw Swash’s hand resting on her leg, just above the knee.

Then, as her husband drove them home Swash, who was said to have been in the back seat, is accused of leaning forward, touching her neck from behind, playing with her hair and stroking her neck.

Her husband was driving in snowy conditions and was oblivious to what the sergeant was doing, it was said.

The same woman officer is alleged to have received flirty texts from him in January 2010. She allegedly said to him: ‘I just want you to be my Sergeant. Will you just treat me as one of your officers please?’ He is said to have responded: ‘But I just don’t want to be your sergeant.’

DS Swash is accused of linking arms with her when she was negotiating a cobbled street during a prison visit to Durham. When the pavement levelled she tried to pull away, but he is said to have held on tightly. She said: “You can let go now.” He replied: “But I like it.”

The prosecutor said he also put his arm tight around her. She said: “What are you doing? I’m not your girlfriend.” He replied: “I am trying to keep you warm and don’t worry, no one knows us here.”

As he drove the car away he is alleged to have said: “I want to kiss you” on numerous occasions. He said nobody would know, but she made it clear it would not be a good idea. “She recalls he was relentless and sulked,” said Mr Shaw.

When they approached Wisbech station he is said to have braked hard and pulled over.”He then leaned across and put his hand round the back of her neck. He pulled her face towards his and kissed her on the mouth. He kissed her again and she pushed him away. She felt bad that she had not been more assertive and that momentarily she had gone with it. But crucially, she had not consented to it and nothing in her prior behaviour could have made him believe that she did not consent,” said the prosecutor.

Mr Shaw said about a month later she was in a gym in Wisbech when Swash arrived in a suit. As she went to a table to pick up her belongings he followed her and kissed her on the mouth as she turned round. “He pushed his entire body against hers. She leant back to prevent it and turned her head away,” he said.

He is alleged to have mounted her and she could feel his erect penis through his clothing. She felt shocked and pulled away.

The jury was told he asked her to attend a meeting in March. It was just the two of them and he pulled his chair closer so his leg was in contact with her. He touched her hair and stroked the back of her neck saying: “I just can’t help myself.” He told her he fancied her and started to touch her leg with his hand. He started to move it further up his thigh.

She said: “Your wife could be walking past and looking in, don’t you care?” He said ‘No, do you?’ She said ‘Yes’.

When he tried to kiss her she leaned away and said: “That’s enough.”

He is alleged to have remarked on another 31 year old woman officer’s sun tan after she returned from holiday in the locker room in 2005 (this is not a charge) and tried to kiss her.

At the Christmas Party in 2009 the same woman was said to be upset. “He gave her a cuddle and told her everything was going to be all right. He was being nice and apparently comforting her. However, he then kissed her on the lips. His hands were on her arms and shoulders as he did it,” said Mr Shaw.

Later the woman said she was at her new home in Peterborough when Swash called and visited her. “Without a word he then kissed her on the lips. He put his arms around her. Initially she froze. She did not kiss him back but was taken by surprise.”

A 20 year old woman called the police in 2012 when she was involved in an abusive relationship. Her partner was arrested and bailed, but persisted in contacting her. She told the police, and two officers visited her and gave her advice. The next day another officer called at the house saying he was Matt Swash.

He is said to have sent her inappropriate texts saing she was “brave, beautiful and pretty.”

Another woman, a 43 year old foster carer, was concerned that a 14 year old girl was putting herself in a vulnerable position by accessing the internet. An officer attended, but two weeks later Swash was said to have contacted the woman. Mr Shaw said: “He visited the house and spoke to the girl. He texted the woman and on two occasions turned up at her house. She did not open the door because he was creepy. On a third occasion she let him in and made tea in the kitchen. As she turned to the right he kissed her on the lips and put his hands on her face. She moved away and told him he should not be doing it. He kissed her on the lips and neck and touched her breast and bottom.

She could feel his erect penis and he said: ‘Can you feel that?’”

Another women called the police after a burglary. A week later after officers attended, Swash is said to have contacted her. They exchange again and one said;” It would be a shame not to see your face again.” He had attended her home without any good reason as far as she could see,” said Mr Shaw.

A third police officer said he would make physical contact by touching her arm or waist. She let him know she was not interested as she did not fancy him and realised he was already married. She moved address in December 2012 and when he visited he is said to have tried to stroke her tattoo and touching her legs.

The same woman was on a rest day when he turned up to talk about a case. Swash is said to have moved towards her and tried to kiss her on the lips, but she moved and he ended up kissing her cheek.

A fourth officer, aged 41, was on a night shift at Peterborough when Swash is said to have told her was unhappy in his marriage. Outside in a smoking area he is said to have tried to kiss her. On another night shift he is alleged to have said: “Your bum is so good I am going to grab it.”

The jury was told Swash has pleaded guilty to a count of unauthorised access to a computer which the prosecution say he carried out to discover if the 41 year old woman had made a complaint.

Mr Shaw said on 19 December 2011 Swash was subject to a disciplinary proceedings. He breached standards of professional behaviour by sending an inappropriate text to a woman who had complained of domestic abuse.

In January 2013 he sent inappropriate texts to a female officer who herself had been a victim of crime. He had been warned that he needed to regain the trust and confidence of his colleagues.

When questioned Swash denied the Christmas Party and Durham allegations. He said there had been a consensual relationship with the first woman that consisted of kissing on two separate occasions. He said he had kissed the second woman by consent and did not sexually assault her. He denied any physical contact with the third woman and said he only kissed the fourth on the cheek at the end of a night shift.

Mr Shaw said: “The theme that runs throughout this case, and links all of the various counts, is that this defendant went to many and varied lengths to gain access to women.

“He abused his position as a police officer by his conduct with civilians who were inevitable in a position of vulnerability and who naturally had their guard down since they were with a police officer.

“He abused his position as a police officer in relation to fellow, but junior colleagues in the force. He pestered them and assaulted them knowing that he thereby placed them in an invidious position of wondering if they could or should complain, without damaging their cherished careers.”

The case was adjourned until Friday.