A SACKED policeman ‘acted improperly’ by claiming an anonymity order had been put in place to stop his name and details about his misconduct from being made public, the High Court heard.

Terry Cooke, a former Hampshire Constabulary officer, and his lawyers threatened the Gazette with legal action after it sought to report his name when he was dismissed from the force following a secret tribunal in April 2021.

SEE MORE: Basingstoke policeman ‘abused his position’ to target young women he found attractive

But it later emerged that this was false, leading a High Court judge to dismiss the officer’s attempts to remain anonymous at a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in January. 

In a victory for open justice, the newspaper is now able to report the full details relating to the Basingstoke officer’s dismissal after his anonymity application was rejected.

The Gazette and its publisher Newsquest, launched a legal challenge against the chair of the police misconduct panel, William Hansen QC, after Mr Cooke’s lawyers, Penningtons Manches Cooper, claimed the chair had placed an anonymity order to block reporting.

But after proceedings had started, it emerged no such order had been made.

Speaking at the High Court, Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, representing the Gazette, said Mr Cooke’s “repeated false representations through his solicitors that an anonymity direction had been made” had led to proceedings being launched on an entirely false basis.

He said: “Contrary to Mr Cooke’s repeated false statements, no anonymity direction had been made by [Mr Hansen]. Mr Cooke’s conduct in relation to these proceedings constitutes an important and continuing theme; an attempt to stifle proper and legitimate reporting of his serious misconduct and the disciplinary process.”

Basingstoke Gazette: PC Terry Cooke with officers from the Royal Bermuda PolicePC Terry Cooke with officers from the Royal Bermuda Police

Mr Cooke was dismissed from Hampshire police without notice after he was found to have abused his position of public trust to pursue relationships with women and victims of domestic violence he met through the course of his job.

His lawyers came head-to-head with the Gazette at the High Court following a 10-month-long dispute on January 25 and January 28.

Representing Mr Cooke, Darryl Hutcheon claimed his client’s insistence about an anonymity order was a “genuine mistake”.

However, Jonathan Price, defending the misconduct chair, said: “Mr Cooke could have been under no misapprehension. Mr Hansen’s covering email clearly summarised the orders which he had made.”

Mr Hutcheon later said that regardless of Mr Hansen’s decision, his client’s position was that it would be unfair to name him under his human rights.

Mr Hutcheon said: “[Mr Cooke’s] main point has been consistently and remains that, irrespective of the LQC’s directions, [the Gazette] would be acting unlawfully if it published details about his case which identified him, given, for example, his rights under Article 8 of the European Court of Human Rights.”

The lawyer argued his client was an “ordinary police constable with no particular public reputation or profile” and the story could be told “perfectly well without naming him”.

As part of the High Court proceedings in January, Mr Cooke applied for an anonymity order to prevent the paper from publishing his name.

Mr Scherbel-Ball argued that Mr Cooke’s identity was integral to the reporting of both the police tribunal and the High Court hearing, saying: “It is not only of significant public interest but goes to the heart of the rationale for the open justice principle.

“Permitting [the Gazette] to report fully on both sets of proceedings including Mr Cooke’s name in its role as public watchdog is consistent with the tribunal’s conclusion that his conduct was so serious that nothing short of immediate dismissal would be sufficient to maintain public confidence in the police service.”

The barrister pointed out that according to a Freedom of Information request, between 2016 and 2020, a third of disciplinary proceedings concerning officers at Hampshire Constabulary have been heard behind closed doors.

He said: “Such a high number of private hearings does not appear consistent with the presumption in favour of open justice and transparency and that the issues highlighted in this case about the exclusion of the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the inadequate approach of Hampshire Police to promote the open justice principle appear emblematic of broader issues, meriting further scrutiny and public debate.”

In a written witness statement, Katie French, former editor of the Gazette, argued that the allegations against Mr Cooke were so serious that a lack of transparency could undermine public trust in the police.

She said: “The proven allegations and findings of the disciplinary panel in respect of Mr Cooke are clearly of the utmost seriousness and a lack of transparency and public scrutiny of cases such as this will lead to a mistrust of and lack of confidence in the police service.”

Concluding, High Court judge Justice Naomi Ellenbogen rejected Mr Cooke’s bid for anonymity. She said: “Open justice is a fundamental principle of the common law. Its justification is the ‘value of public scrutiny as the guarantor of the quality of justice’ and ‘its significance has, if anything, increased in an age which attached growing importance to the public accountability of public officers and institutions and to the availability of information about the performance of their functions.”

The judge continued: “Anonymised reporting of issues of legitimate public concern are less likely to interest the public and therefore, to provoke discussion. In this case, Mr Cooke’s identity is not wholly marginal or peripheral to the public interest in reporting proceedings … the officer has been publicly commended for other aspects of his work and has been a serving officer in his community for approximately 20 years, there is sufficient public interest in identifying him.

“In relation to the acts of serious misconduct committed in the context of his professional activities, I find that Mr Cooke has no reasonable expectation of privacy.”

The judge found Mr Cooke had behaved ‘improperly’ and took the decision to order the former officer to pay legal costs on an indemnity basis in view of his ‘unreasonable’ behaviour. This means the ex-policeman will have to cover the newspaper’s legal costs.

The judge also permitted documents relating to Mr Cooke’s tribunal could be reported for the first time.

The Police Federation for England and Wales, who is understood to have helped Mr Cooke, will be part-paying the sacked officer’s legal costs. A spokesman for the organisation would not clarify its full involvement in Mr Cooke’s case.

READ MORE: Senior councillors criticise council for not investing enough into the Aquadrome

In a statement, they said: “Our particular interest concerned the wider legal issue of how the Courts would interpret the question of whether the directions and rulings of the Legally Qualified Chairs - who preside over police misconduct hearings - are legally binding. There was no legal precedent in this area at the time, and the implications of this issue and related issues around privacy and anonymity were of potential relevance to the organisation’s wider membership.

“Regrettably, given the turn of events in the case, those important questions were not ultimately addressed or determined by the Court. PFEW was not aware until after the Judicial Review proceedings had commenced that there had been no LQC anonymity ruling. We are currently conducting enquiries in order to review and consider the case outcomes. Therefore, we are unable to comment further at this time.”

Speaking after the hearing, Simon Westrop, head of legal at Newsquest, said: “Police officers should be held to account in their own name when they commit wrongdoing. Statutory regulations require misconduct hearings to be held in public.

“Any attempt to suppress information about the identity of an officer is an insult to the victims of misconduct. In this case, the Basingstoke Gazette and its publisher Newsquest Media Group could not stand idly by, in spite of the risk and cost attendant on all legal action. It was an important thing to do on behalf of our readers.”

A spokesperson for Penningtons Manches Cooper said: “We recognise and support the important role that the press plays as the public’s watchdog for matters such as police misconduct proceedings, and the public interest in the responsible reporting of the same. However, it is not an unfettered right and there are sometimes compelling individual factors which mean that right should be restricted.”

Message from the editor

Thank you for reading this story. We really appreciate your support.

Please help us to continue bringing you all the trusted news from your area by sharing this story or by following our Facebook page.