Sean O’Neill and Russell Jenkins
A police force is continuing to pay a former child protection officer’s £35,000 salary despite his conviction for serious paedophile offences, The Times has learnt.
DC Peter Cooper, 58, was found guilty last month of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy but remains suspended on full pay pending a police disciplinary tribunal.
West Midlands Police will not reveal when its misconduct panel will meet to hear the case, which is expected to result in the officer’s dismissal from the force. It may not take place until after Cooper has been sentenced at Stafford Crown Court this month.
Judge Simon Tonking has already warned the policeman that he could face a significant custodial sentence.
Cooper has been a West Midlands officer for 32 years and was assigned to the Family Protection Unit, investigating child abuse cases, between 2002 and 2005. He was attached to the unit when the allegations against him were made in 2005.
But a spokesman for the force said that it did not plan to review cases in which Cooper had been involved during that period, nor to alert families with which he may have had contact.
The offences of which the officer has been convicted relate to his position as a senior instructor in an Army Cadet Corps in the Midlands between 1983 and 1986. They surfaced two years ago when a former cadet who had been abused by Cooper in the 1980s came face-to-face with him again. Two other former cadets also gave evidence against Cooper at his trial last month.
The three spoke of a culture of sexual abuse in the cadet corps involving a number of volunteer instructors, who held officer rank. The principal witness said: “The cadets had been brainwashed into thinking it [indecent assault] was normal.”
The witness, now in his thirties, told the court that he had gone to the police with the allegations because he reached a point in his life where he could no longer keep it buried. He said: “When sexual abuse happens your trust is shattered and you worry whether people will believe you.”
The jury found Cooper guilty of buggery and indecent assault against the main witness. But it acquitted him of five counts involving the other complainants. Investigators believe, however, that there may have been an organised paedophile ring at work within the cadet corps and that there are more abuse victims who have not yet come forward.
Cooper was a soldier in the Royal Corps of Signals, serving in Northern Ireland among other places, before leaving in 1973 and joining West Midlands Police. He volunteered as a cadet instructor, rising to the rank of major. In 1987 Cooper married and, four years later, left the cadet corps to spend more time with his family.
During Cooper’s police career he spent periods as a firearms officer and in the regional crime squad before joining the Family Protection Unit. Police colleagues who appeared as character witnesses described him as a man who rarely became flustered and said that he was regarded as one of the best in the unit at interviewing suspects.
Cooper denied the charges and his lawyers asserted at his trial that the complainants had colluded to make make false allegations.
Rachel Brand, for the prosecution, told the jury during the trial in July that Cooper was quietly-spoken with a diffident manner but the kind of man that others looked up to. She said that one witness referred to him as a “James Bond figure”.
But she said neither the passage of time nor his service in the West Midlands force absolved Cooper of responsibility for a “gross breach of trust”. She said: “The damage done to these impressionable young men is far-reaching. It causes an emotional turmoil that lasts for many years.”
Miss Brand added that Cooper was “plausible” and “intelligent” but had lied when he denied the allegations. She said: “Throughout the intervening years he must have thought he had got away with it but the truth, we submit, is out at last.”
The force said that it would stop paying Cooper’s salary when he received a custodial sentence. It felt that it was unnecessary to review his work as a child protection officer because he spent most of his time interviewing suspects and would not have been alone with vulnerable children.
A spokesman said: “When complaints are made against officers we carry out robust, thorough and proportionate investigations to ensure the integrity of the organisation. This investigation has been conducted in that manner resulting in the conviction of Peter Cooper and we are clearly disappointed that this officer has failed to uphold the high standards of West Midlands Police.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said that all army cadet instructors recruited now were subjected to strict vetting and checks by the Criminal Records Bureau.