By James Simons-
An Avon and Somerset Constabulary lain clothes police constable who returned drugs to suspected users during stop and searches in exchange for information about dealers resigned before he could be dismissed had he not already resigned, a misconduct hearing has ruled.
Described as an “energetic and effective” crime fighter, a misconduct hearing was told. PC Jonathan Biggins’ colleagues “jumped to the wrong conclusion” when he seized and then returned Class A substances to users on the street in Weston-super-Mare in exchange for information about dealers, his barrister Nick Walker told an investigative misconduct panel.
The five-day hearing, led by an independent Legally Qualified Chair (LQC), heard how between September 2019 and October 2020, PC Biggins approached a number of people in Weston-super-Mare to carry out a stop and search for drugs.
When he found drugs in their possession, he gave them back in exchange for information about the dealers that supplied them.
One less experienced colleague was told by PC Biggins not to include anything in their notebook about drugs being seized from and returned to a drug user, which led to documents being falsified, said the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).
An investigation was carried out after two officers raised concerns over PC Biggin’s actions with a supervisor.
Barrister Nick Walker, mitigating, said the former constable, who resigned before the disciplinary panel hearing, had been a “respected and successful” police officer with a previously unblemished disciplinary record.
He said not every member of the public would consider what he did as serious as some other misconduct cases.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said concerns had been raised by fellow officers about PC Jonathan Biggins’ conduct in October 2020.
“The evidence obtained during our investigation revealed that PC Biggins, aged 40 who was based in North Somerset, had searched drug users, found and seized drugs and asked users for information,” said the IOPC.
“When information was provided, he returned some of the substances seized to the drug users, with the officer using the information provided to locate and arrest suspected drug dealers.”
The IOPC said it interviewed the officer as well as his colleagues and obtained witness statements, including some from those individuals he had stopped and searched.
“One less experienced colleague was told by PC Biggins not to include anything in their notebook about drugs being seized from and returned to a drug user, which led to documents being falsified,” the IOPC said. “He acknowledged to a colleague on a journey to apprehend suspected dealers that what he had done was not best practice.
“We found that the officer’s actions amounted to operational dishonesty in attempting to misrepresent the fact of locating drugs and the amount and, in doing so, manipulating evidence gathered in relation to drugs offences.
“We concluded that due to the improper way the information was gained, PC Biggins was imperilling the safety of the drug users involved and potentially prejudicing any future proceedings against dealers.”
The IOPC’s investigation concluded in April 2022, and found that the officer, who resigned from Avon and Somerset Constabulary in February 2021, having been suspended earlier, had a case to answer for gross misconduct.
At the conclusion of the misconduct hearing on Tuesday (May 23), overseen by an independent legally qualified chair, the panel decided that the former officer had breached the standards of professional behaviour and would have been dismissed had he not already left the force.
IOPC director David Ford said: “The hearing has found that former PC Biggins falsified records, tampered with evidence, and encouraged other officers not to accurately record what had taken place. The evidence indicates that PC Biggins used his role to exert improper influence over vulnerable individuals.
“He has shown a lack of professionalism, a lack of respect for the rights of members of the public and of the law, and grossly breached his authority. If members of the public are fearful that those serving with the police might seek to manipulate them due to their vulnerabilities, then this has the potential to seriously undermine aspects of legitimacy within the police service.
“There can be little doubt that the actions of this former officer have negatively impacted trust and confidence in policing, both within the local community and with the wider public. The actions of one individual in this case has unfortunately undermined the positive work undertaken by the majority of the police service on a daily basis.”
Following its investigation, the IOPC sent a file of evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider any potential criminal offence by the officer. The CPS later decided not to bring any criminal charge.
Superintendent Mark Edgington, head of the force’s Professional Standards, said: “These were very serious allegations against this former officer who, from the evidence provided at the hearing, clearly did not follow the proper procedures or policies when carrying out these stop searches.
“Stop and search is a valuable tool in our fight against illegal drugs which cause harm and damage in our communities and unfortunately PC Biggins’ actions will have undermined the use of this power in the eyes of the public.
“We actively encourage our staff to report any concerns or information about potential misconduct, unprofessional behaviour or integrity issues, and we have a range of reporting methods in place, including a confidential and anonymous reporting line.”
Mr Biggins will now be barred from serving as a police officer.
It has not been stated what quantity of drugs seized was returned to users