Wigan police officer who tried to meet eight-year-old girl and had indecent images is jailed

A Wigan police officer who was caught trying to arrange the abuse of an eight-year-old girl and accessed indecent images of a vulnerable teenager has been jailed for eight years and four months.

Wednesday, 12th January 2022, 5:03 pm

Lee Cunliffe, 40, of Hindley Green, Wigan, was a serving officer for Greater Manchester Police (GMP) in September 2020 when he began messaging a woman whom he believed was the mother of an eight-year-old girl on instant messaging app Kik, Liverpool Crown Court was told on Thursday.

Arthur Gibson, prosecuting, said the detective constable used the name “Steve S mancgent1” and told the woman, who was actually an undercover officer for the Met Police, he would visit London to sexually abuse her daughter.

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Lee Cunliffe

Police investigations revealed Cunliffe had sent the messages, including from the IP address of a police-owned computer at Swinton Police Station, and he was arrested in October 2020, Mr Gibson said.

When his then home in Bolton was searched, officers found a laptop he had been using to access indecent images of children, including of a “plainly vulnerable” teenage girl who made a complaint to GMP in 2018, the court was told.

Mr Gibson said the girl had alleged her boyfriend had taken indecent images of her and distributed them without her knowledge.

Cunliffe, a trainee in CID, was allocated to the case and the suspect was arrested and his computer and phone were seized.

He later wrote an entry on the crime log stating there was nothing on either device relating to the offence, the court was told.

Mr Gibson said: “In fact, both devices contained both still and moving indecent images of children, a total of 227 being accessible.”

The computer was returned to the suspect with the indecent images still on and no further action was taken.

Judge Menary said: “What you did in relation to this girl and this case is shocking and strikes at the very heart of that foundation of trust that the public have invested in the police service.”

He added: “The consequence for the teenage complainant is that her complaint was never properly pursued and she remained seriously at risk of further disclosure.

“The question, frankly, is this: why should she ever trust the police ever again about anything?”

The court was told a search of Cunliffe’s laptop also found evidence of files from between 2014 and 2018 which were indicative of child abuse.

Mr Gibson said: “The evidence shows the defendant did have an interest in child pornography and the sexual abuse of children.

“However, there is some evidence to suggest that he recognised this and was in a state of turmoil about it.”

A notebook found at Cunliffe’s home included entries saying he had a sex and porn addiction and was receiving counselling.

Julian King, defending, said Cunliffe was a married father and had been a police officer for 17 years.

He said Cunliffe had been going to see a psychotherapist, who said he had compulsive sexual behaviour disorder.

Cunliffe pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to arranging the commission of a child sex offence, perverting the course of justice, misconduct in a public office, distributing indecent photos of a child, and three counts of making indecent photos.

Senior Investigating Officer Detective Inspector Suzanne Keenaghan, from GMP's Online Child Abuse Investigation Team, said: "Cunliffe deliberately created an online profile with the perverted intention of arranging to commit a child sex offence and having indecent images in his possession for his own sexual gratification.

"This kind of offending and abuse is depraved and I hope today's sentence sends a stark and firm warning to those who feel that they can commit these offences from behind a computer screen - we will do all in our power to identify you and bring you to justice - regardless of who you are or what you do.

"I would encourage anyone affected by this case to contact police, or our partners, to report any abuse or exploitation so that the relevant authorities can act on it."

Deputy Chief Constable, Terry Woods, said: "Cunliffe's actions were absolutely inexcusable and have undermined the very essence of policing's core value of protecting the public and helping those in need.

"We expect our officers and staff to uphold the highest standards and Cunliffe's deplorable behaviour fell well below what was expected of him - he both abused his position at GMP and attempted to act on his own sexual gratification.

"I want to be clear that he does not reflect our officers who come to work each day and conduct themselves with the utmost professionalism and commitment to serving the people of Greater Manchester.

"Quite frankly, we will not stand for this behaviour and we are prepared to take robust action whenever any offending comes to light - whether that be by proactively identifying it ourselves or responding to reports made to us.

"I would encourage our officers, staff and the public to report any actions which breach our professional standards."

Disciplinary action under the Police Conduct Regulations will now follow.

Greater Manchester Victims' Services provide emotional and practical support to anyone affected by crime and are a confidential service. The service can be contacted by visiting the website on www.gmvictims.org.uk or calling 0161 200 1950.

An NSPCC spokesperson said: “Cunliffe’s actions were an appalling abuse of his position of trust.

“Through his police training and employment, Cunliffe would have been very aware of the devastation sexual abuse has on children’s lives, but despite this he chose to pursue his own perverted desires.

“The NSPCC would encourage anyone who has experienced sexual abuse, no matter when it happened or who the perpetrator was, to speak out and seek support.”

Children can contact Childline on 0800 1111. Adults with concerns about the safety or wellbeing of a child can phone the NSPCC helpline on 0808 8005000 or email [email protected]