Detective from Wigan who abused his position receives suspended sentence during pandemic
A married detective constable abused his position to have sex with a vulnerable woman and flirted with three others.
A judge told Stuart Lunt today: “You were in a privileged position. You gained the trust of vulnerable women and utilised that trust for your own sexual advantages and desires. You crossed the boundaries of your duties as a police officer and did so knowingly.”
Judge David Aubrey, QC, told the father-of-two that the offence of misconduct in public office, which he had admitted, crossed the custody threshold but he took into account the impact of the coronavirus situation.
His wife, who is standing by him, is a key worker as a deputy pre-school nursery manager, and if he was immediately jailed there was no-one to look after their children as other relatives were in the vulnerable category and self-isolating.
“In the particular circumstances of your case and the circumstances society currently faces the sentence can be suspended,” said Judge Aubrey.
Lunt, 36, who resigned from Lancashire police force last week, was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment suspended for two years and ordered to carry out 250 hours unpaid work.
The judge said that all of the women were “vulnerable to exploitation and that is precisely what you did. You exploited each and every one.”
Judge Aubrey, who said that his behaviour “was akin to grooming” and it occurred when he should have been carrying out his police duties, said: "You failed your family, your friends, colleagues and the public.”
He said that he had had sex with one woman at her home and they also had sexual activity on another occasion.
The judge said he accepted he was now remorseful and ashamed of his actions but pointed out: “Police officers are in a position of privilege and power and you abused that privilege and power and inveigled your way into the lives of vulnerable women to seek to obtain their gratitude and did so with a sexual motive.”
David Toal, prosecuting, told Liverpool Crown Court that Lunt joined Greater Manchester Police in 2003 and later joined the Lancashire force in June 2015 eventually becoming a detective constable and serving in Chorley.
He said Lunt abused his position as a police officer both on and off duty and his conduct towards the vulnerable women, who were victims or witnesses of crime, “was deeply and wholly inappropriate. It is clear his behaviour has been damaging to the emotional health of well-being of the women.”
The offences occurred between 2017 and last year and he contacted the women using both his work phone and his personal mobile phone via text, social media apps and direct calls, said Mr Toal.
He encountered the first woman, a single mum, in February 2017 after going to her home to give her a personal safety warning as it was feared her life was in danger from her ex-partner.
He asked for her mobile number and began sending her messages via WhatsApp which became “flirty banter.”
He asked if she had a boyfriend and told her she was pretty and asked her to meet him for coffee but she was not interested and felt his conduct was inappropriate and blocked his messages.
The next year he began sending flirtatious messages to another single mum, who was a witness in an assault case. “She liked him and thought he was funny” and they began exchanging messages on Twitter.
She described him as “trying to chat her up and asked her to go round for a brew. From their conversations she knew he was married with a child and claimed to be unhappy in his marriage.”
When he rang while she was in bed he became sexually suggestive and she felt under pressure. He twice visited her home, the second time on duty and staying for two or three hours until midnight before leaving and giving her a hug. She felt he was grooming her but was conflicted about reporting him, said Mr Toal.
During the same period he was swapping flirtatious messages with another woman witness, who was mentally fragile, and she felt flattered. Many of the messages were sexually explicit and he asked if she wanted to meet for sex. She felt he was pressurising her to make a statement about the case she was involved in and afterwards she felt humiliated and embarrassed.
Lunt met the fourth woman in June 2018 when he gave her a caution for a fraud offence. She suffered from anxiety and depression and as well as self-harming had tried to kill herself.
He kept in contact with her and when she became the victim of harassment he gave her another number to contact him and called at her business premises. He later told her he could not stop thinking about her and said, “I have never felt like this before. I believe we have an undeniable connection between us.”
Lunt said he had “a deep attraction for her which he just had to explore” and she felt “10 foot tall” as it made her feel attractive and desirable. He said he would not leave his wife but asked if she would like an affair with him and said he “wanted to know what it was like to do it once.”
They arranged to meet at a petrol station in Wrightington in August and he drove them down a dirt track and he touched her sexually and she performed a sex act on him. Following this meeting he “bombarded” her with sexually graphic messages and phone calls and told her he loved her.
At Christmas he said he was on the verge of a breakdown and that he would lose his job if anyone found out about their relationship.
When officers from the Professional Standards department spoke to her in May last year she initially lied but felt disgusted with herself for doing so.
When interviewed by police Lunt, of Greaves Close, Appley Bridge, made no comment.
Miss Nash told the court that Lunt has been suffering from mental health difficulties stemming from problems at school age which have followed him throughout his life.
He had been trying to deal with them himself and had fallen “quite spectacularly.”
He still suffers from anxiety and depression and is receiving counselling and CBT. He had not been “explicitly aware” that the last two women had historically had suicidal thoughts, she said.
“He is well entrenched in his local community and is a very popular member of the community in various different capacities.”
His children, aged six and one, are his paramount concern and the youngest is too young to go to the nursery where his wife works. The family would not be able to cope on just her income if he was jailed, said Miss Nash.
She pointed out that imprisonment for police officers is always difficult for them and it would additionally add to the burdens facing prison officers because of the virus.
She urged the judge to suspend the sentence “in the exceptional circumstances at this exceptional time.”
After the hearing, Det Ch Insp Jane Webb said: “Firstly I would like to thank and commend the victims in this case for having the bravery to come forward and report these allegations to us. Today’s outcome would not have been possible without them.
“Police officers are expected to adhere to the highest standards of behaviour in both their public and private lives and Stuart Lunt has clearly failed to adhere to those standards.
“He has risked undermining the public’s confidence in the police service as a whole and the fantastic work undertaken every day by the vast majority of our staff.
“We will continue to proactively target malpractice and wrongdoing in Lancashire Constabulary, as we did with this case, to ensure that the communities we serve can have confidence and trust in us.”
The forece said Lunt had tendered his resignation but will still be subject to misconduct proceedings.
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