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Force faces potential claims from police officers over alleged abuse

Abuse lawyers are considering claims on behalf of police officers who allege that they were the victims of sexual assault during routine medical examinations in the 1980s and 1990s

Posted on 22 March 2017

Abuse lawyers at the law firm Leigh Day are considering claims on behalf of police officers who allege that they were the victims of sexual assault during routine medical examinations as part of their recruitment to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary during the 1980s and 1990s.

The male and female officers allege that the doctor who performed the medical examinations, Dr Reginald Bunting, assaulted them during routine medical checks. 

In 2015, following concerns raised by several retired police officers about Dr Bunting, who died in 2013, Avon and Somerset Constabulary referred the matter to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Avon and Somerset Constabulary, who had employed Dr Bunting, also set up an independent investigation, called Operation Hay, into the allegations, led by Timothy Keelan a recently retired Detective Superintendent from Merseyside.

The investigation looked at allegations concerning the behaviour of Dr Bunting between 1981 and 2002 which were described in the report as being: “…varied in scale of severity from voyeurism, other incidents including sexual touching through to reported penetrative assault.”

One such accusation, according to the report, referred to: “…Dr Bunting reaching through from under a person’s arm from behind and ‘fondling’ the woman’s breast.”

The findings of Operation Hay were published in February 2017, of the 112 cases investigated, 44 of them had fallen below a common and acceptable standard for the time, and a further 10 cases had fallen either ‘woefully’ or ‘grossly’ below common and acceptable standards ‘of the time’.

The report also stated that during the 1990s officers did raise concerns on several occasions about Dr Bunting’s behaviour.

In 1991, in a letter responding to a complainant, ACC Hugo Pike stated ‘a number of new arrangements will be introduced straight away, so that there will be no future embarrassment to those undergoing examinations’.

No new arrangements were discovered by the investigation.

Two more complaints were made in 1995 and 1996; however, the investigation found that these concerns had not been referred to Professional Standards.

According to the report, 19 cases, where the investigation found that the conduct of the examinations had at least fallen below the common and accepted standards of the time, took place after the complaint made in 1991.

In its reaction to the report, the Avon and Somerset Constabulary gave an unreserved apology, stating:

“The Constabulary offers an unreserved apology to all those affected, whether they raised concerns during the investigation or not, for failing to ensure acceptable medical conduct during their examinations.

“The Constabulary recognises, and is grateful for, the actions of the individuals who came forward to raise their concerns in April 2015, and for all those who subsequently shared their account. They did the right thing in doing so.”

Alison Millar, the head of the abuse team at Leigh Day said:

“We are currently considering the allegations made in this report and any potential legal action leading from these claims.

“We would be particularly keen to hear from those people who had given their evidence to the investigation, to support those officers we represent, and who may be wishing to seek redress themselves for the actions of Dr Bunting and his employers.”