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Tasia Stephens of South Wales Police admits gross misconduct

A POLICE officer has accepted gross misconduct after breaching lockdown rules by attending a house party and then crashing her car while over the drink-drive limit.

PC Tasia Stephens, 24, failed a breathalyser test after crashing her car into a building less than two miles from the family event in the early hours of Sunday, April 26, last year.

On Monday, a misconduct hearing was told the South Wales Police officer was off duty on the Saturday evening when she attended the gathering at her aunt’s home in Conway Road, Treorchy.

At the time of the incident, the entire UK was under strict stay-at-home rules, with people in Wales banned from meeting either indoors or outdoors with people they did not live with.

Case presenter Barney Branston told the hearing in Pencoed, Bridgend, that PC Stephens attended the house party contrary to coronavirus restrictions despite her having an “expectation to enforce the law and take action against members of the public who break them”.

Mr Branston also said PC Stephens “took the extraordinary decision to drive after she knew she’d been drinking” and gave “no thought to other road users”.

PC Stephens was said to have started drinking alcohol at the party where members of her family told her of historic sex allegations against a family member.

But despite appearing to be in “good spirits” when she left at midnight, Mr Branston said PC Stephens nevertheless “took a very poor decision to reach for her car keys and go for a drive”.

Mr Branston said PC Stephens drove around 500 metres down the road from her aunt’s address where her vehicle was recognised by her on-duty police colleagues who stopped her for a short conversation, but they had “no suspicion she was over the legal limit to drive”.

“She carried on driving for around 1.6 miles before crashing into a building in the early hours,” he said.

Mr Branston said members of the public who heard the sound of the crash in Gelli Road, Pentre, alerted police who found PC Stephens “extremely upset”.

Pc Stephens failed a roadside breath test, and was taken to a police station where she was found to have 90 milligrams of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood, with the legal limit to drive being 35mg of alcohol.

On July 10 last year she pleaded guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol at Merthyr Tydfil Magistrates’ Court where she was given a conditional discharge for 12 months and banned from driving for 15 months.

Saying PC Stephens had brought or would likely bring discredit to her force, Mr Branston said: “She has expectation to enforce the law and take action against members of the public who break them.

“She chose to ignore the restrictions and undermined public confidence.”

Pc Stephens told the hearing she accepted attending the house party, driving when unfit, and being convicted in court.

She also accepted each of the allegations amounts to discreditable conduct, and that taken together amounts to gross misconduct.

Susan Ridge, panel chair, told the hearing it accepted there were only four people at the house party, but also that Pc Stephens’ actions amounted to gross misconduct.

Ms Ridge said: “Taken as a whole, the events on the 25th and 26th of April, breaching Welsh Government lockdown restrictions, driving while unfit, and the resulting magistrates’ court conviction amount to a breach of the standards of professional behaviour, namely discreditable conduct, and such a breach amounts to gross misconduct.

“We accept she left her home and visited a relative’s house where there were three other people present, and that in itself is a breach of lockdown restrictions.”

Addressing the panel on possible sanctions, Mr Branston said the matter was so serious that it could only be dealt with by dismissal without notice.

He said: “Attending a party during lockdown restrictions, that of itself is of course, irrespective of any drinking, of any information confirmed at that party, that decision was made and taken in advance of any alcohol passing her lips. That decision on its own means dismissal can only be justified.

“Her decision-making was fundamentally wrong and in the current climate attending a party is wrong.”

Mr Branston said Pc Stephens – who was still serving her probation period at the time of the incident after recently joining the force – also brought discredit separately by choosing to drive while over the limit and then receiving a conviction in court.

“Self evidently, a serving officer found guilty in court of drink-driving can only bring discredit on the police force,” he said.

Mr Branston said he would propose for Pc Stephens to be put on the police barred list, which would prevent her from joining a police force again, if she were to be dismissed.

The hearing will resume on Tuesday.

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