Trusted police officer and scout leader exposed himself to teen during webcam chat - despite previous warning over social media use

A trusted police officer and scout leader exposed himself during a webcam conversation with a teenager.

Monday, 21st January 2019, 4:02 pm
Updated Monday, 21st January 2019, 4:06 pm
Stephen Purnell resigned as a Northumbria Police officer.

Stephen Purnell, who was employed by Northumbria Police and was also Assistant Commissioner in the scout movement for the Durham area, had asked the 16-year-old intimate questions during a series of conversations before he showed his private parts.

The youth told police he was "shocked and embarrassed" by what he saw during the incident, which happened between July 2012 and September 2013.

Newcastle Crown Court heard 38-year-old Purnell, who was scout leader at the Houghton unit, had already had a warning, in around 2010, from the Scouting District Commissioner for using Facebook to speak to teens who were under 18.

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His communication with and exposure to the teenager was eventually revealed when police seized his home computer equipment in April 2017 as part of an investigation into his use of the police force computer.

The court heard he received a caution for misuse of the police system late last year and resigned from the force. He now earns £1,200 per month working in a call centre.

Prosecutor Paul Reid told the court Purnell had chatted with the teen, on his home computer, using MSN, Facebook and Snapchat, initially about everyday matters.

Mr Reid added: "It then went on to more personal subjects.

"The defendant said he thought he was bisexual and asked if he watched pornography and if he had ever thought about experimenting in sexual matters with a man.

"On one occasion he exposed his private parts to him, on camera."

The court heard in later messages Purnell apologised for the "webcam c**p" and told the teen: "It is not something you should have seen, sorry."

Purnell, of Washington, told police he had had "banter" with the boy but denied talking over webcam.

He later pleaded guilty to exposure.

Judge Stephen Earl sentenced him to a community order for two years with supervision requirements and £1,500 costs.

Purnell must sign the sex offenders register for five years.

Judge Earl said it was a concern that Purnell had already been "warned off" with regard to social media contact.

The judge told him: "You had had safeguarding training.

"Despite that, you were challenged in about 2010 by the County Commissioner for using Facebook to communicate with people under 18.

"You were given various advice and warnings about the inappropriateness of such contact."

The judge said he accepted Purnell has genuine remorse for what he did.

Lee Fish, defending, said Purnell resigned from the police in September last year, after he accepted a caution for misuse of the force computer.

Mr Fish said the chat with the teen was "inappropriate banter" and added: "It was a serious error of judgement by him.

"It was something he should never have done, something he bitterly regret and feels a great deal of embarrassment about.

"Before his conviction of this offence he had no convictions. He is someone who has paid a very heavy price for his indiscretion all those years ago and he now has to register as a sex offender."

Mr Fish said the checks on Purnell's home computer equipment did not reveal any further problems or offending.

After the case, the Scout Association said: "The Scout Association is aware of recent court proceedings involving Purnell and has co-operating fully with the statutory agencies during

their investigations. As soon as we were made aware of the investigation in April 2016, Purnell was suspended from all involvement in the Scout Movement.

"Purnell will never be allowed to volunteer with us again.

"The Scout Association carries out stringent vetting of all adults who work with young people and requires them to work to a strict code of practice outlined in the “Young People First” Code of Practice."

Superintendent Sav Patsolas, of Northumbria Police's Professional Standards Department, said: "Former officer Stephen Purnell was suspended from duty as soon as the serious nature of the allegations he faced were established.

"He resigned before the conclusion of the criminal case but we will still be pursuing formal disciplinary proceedings now he has been convicted.

"We expect officers and staff to maintain the highest levels of professionalism both on and off duty and if anyone is found to have fallen below these standards we are committed to taking appropriate action.

"I want to reassure the communities we serve that this wholly unacceptable behaviour is not reflective of the outstanding professionalism and commitment displayed by officers and staff every single day."