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Detective who sent sex texts to child named thanks to reporter

A detective who sent sexual texts to a 15-year-old girl has been named after a regional daily overturned a second police secrecy bid in three weeks.

The Bristol Post has succeeded in identifying DC Scott Burton, who has been barred from the police force after he was found to have committed gross misconduct.

Avon & Somerset Police was initially set to hold the hearing in private after claiming it was the only way to protect the identity and welfare of DC Burton’s victim.

But local democracy reporter Adam Postans successfully argued that the restrictions were unnecessary because journalists were already prohibited from identifying the child under the Sexual Offences Act.

The Post splashed on its victory yesterday (6)

The successful challenge comes after Adam last month won the right to name disgraced PC Kevin Curd, who had also been initially granted the right to secrecy by chief constable Sarah Crew.

In his submission for DC Burton’s case, Adam argued that it “was the duty and responsibility of the media, not the chief of police, to decide how hearings like this should be reported to the public in a sensitive manner while ensuring the youngster is not identified”.

After seeking legal advice, the chief constable agreed with Adam’s submission.

She said: “It is important for open justice that we bring as much into the public domain as we can without putting at risk the identity of the victim in this case. It would be helpful for me and for open justice if we were to go through the circumstances of the case.”

In a piece about the successful challenge, Adam wrote: “We argued that the issue of identity was straightforward – under the Sexual Offences Act there is automatic lifetime anonymity for any victim of a sexual offence, therefore the media is already prohibited from naming them, and in any case this is something we would not wish to do.

“Any report would be written in a way that would not identify the victim, for the simple reason that it cannot. Furthermore, media industry watchdog IPSO Editors’ Code of Practice also quite rightfully includes additional clauses concerning the protection of children in press reports, and we abide strictly by this code.

“On the issue of holding the hearing in private in order to protect the welfare of the victim and her family, we submitted that this was also clear cut. Any trained and experienced journalist is accustomed to writing such a report sensitively when it involves sexual allegations relating to a child.

“Our interest was in ensuring the misconduct hearing of the officer, who accepted responsibility for the offence for which he had already been given a police caution – a criminal record – and placed on the Sexual Offenders’ Register, was reported to the public in a free and fair manner.

“If the same rules of privacy were applied to criminal proceedings, no cases involving sexual offences against children would be held in public, which is clearly absurd and contrary to the long-established principle of open justice, transparency and press freedom.

“It would be nonsensical to set the privacy bar higher for police misconduct hearings than for criminal court cases, particularly when the decision to hold a hearing in private is made by the chief constable in relation to an officer who, until recently, was under her command.”

The misconduct hearing heard DC Burton had sent “inappropriate flattering sexual messages” about the girl’s physical appearance and invited the vulnerable youngster to join him upstairs to watch Netflix together.

He blamed his conduct on post-traumatic stress disorder, brought about by investigating two major UK terror attacks – the Manchester Arena bombing in 2018 and an arson attack at a synagogue in Exeter.

Chief constable Crew ruled DC Burton would have been sacked without notice had he not already resigned last month.

Avon & Somerset Police Federation chairman Mark Loker, representing the former officer, said he had sent the messages to the girl “naively” and to “boost her confidence”.

Mr Loker told the hearing the messages about Netflix had been “taken out of context” and were “completely innocent” but DC Burton had acknowledged that he “overstepped the mark”.

In a written submission, DC Burton said he would not be attending the hearing due to Adam’s successful application.

He said: “I am not a sexual predator, a deviant or some kind of paedophile – what I am is a family man, loving husband and devoted dad.”

He previously received a police caution over the issue and was placed on the Sex Offenders’ Register for two years in September.