A DETECTIVE has been found guilty of gross misconduct over her handling of child sexual abuse allegations.

Detective Constable Celia MacDonald, who served with Sussex Police for more than 29 years, failed to accurately record and investigate claims made by a 17-year-old girl that her stepfather inappropriately touched her and her five-year-old stepsister on April 14, 2016.

The teenager, known as female A, told MacDonald and her colleague PC Michelle Hayes the man did it to the child while changing her.

Her cousin, a 16-year-old girl known as female B, also alleged the man touched parts of her body inappropriately and “hugged her too hard” at times. The five-year-old was not present at the home visit.

MacDonald, 49, was working in the Horsham safeguarding investigations unit (SIU) at the time of the report.

She allowed the investigation to be carried out by Social Services without any police input during the visit as the senior officer, though disputed her role.

A misconduct hearing panel made up of Chief Superintendent Neil Honnor, chairwoman Alice Sims and independent member Helen Elliott heard she should have recorded each allegation for each girl as a crime due to the nature of the report – something she failed to do, saying there was “no clear disclosure” made to training detective PC Hayes, who conducted the interview as her superior took notes.

The case had been in another detective’s log for the following 13 months and was passed back to MacDonald in May last year.

She made the decision to close the case on May 17, 2017, again citing “no clear disclosure”.

The panel was told an experienced detective would have pursued the investigation further rather, and this was seen as a breach of professional standards as she acted without integrity.

MacDonald retired on Sunday knowing she faced a misconduct hearing, which was held in her absence at Sussex Police’s Lewes headquarters and concluded yesterday.

She did not attend the hearing due to suffering from stress, anxiety and low mood, and has been prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.

MacDonald said she was concerned about the impact the hearing would have on her health.

She faced three allegations, which were:

Following the home visit, she failed to accurately record and investigate allegations of child sexual abuse.

MacDonald allowed allegations of sexual abuse to be conducted as a single agency investigation by Social Services with no police input.

Finally, she was accused of entering a false record on to an occurrence entry log on May 17, 2017, which provided an inaccurate representation of what took place on April 14, 2016.

Martin Forshaw, presenting the case for Sussex Police, identified the third allegation as a breach of professional standards by being dishonest – in a phone call with PC Hayes – and acting with a lack of integrity.

MacDonald was found guilty of all three claims against her.

The fact she acted without integrity was the panel’s reason for their finding of gross misconduct rather than just misconduct.

However, the aspect of dishonesty was unproved.

Delivering the panel’s verdict, Ms Sims said: “The finding in this case is gross misconduct. Allegations one, two and three have been proved. In relation to (allegation) three, we find DC MacDonald acted without integrity in her actions in closing the case.”

MacDonald had denied gross misconduct but accepted misconduct for some allegations.

Her evidence, read to the hearing by her solicitor Adam James, said: “I have found this (the misconduct investigation) to be a traumatic experience. I was disappointed to be the subject of gross misconduct and I feel I have been treated differently to some of my colleagues.

“I co-operated fully with the interviews. This was emotionally very challenging for me.

“I feel I am unable to attend the misconduct hearing. I am concerned of the effect it will have on my health.

“I do not feel resilient enough to answer the same questions again.”

On her decision to retire, MacDonald said: “I am afraid I just cannot take it any more and I am disappointed my integrity has been called into question. My reputation that has been built over 30 years has been tarnished.

“I felt let down by the organisation I loyally served for 30 years.”

In her statement, MacDonald said it was a “collective failure” from the SIU, with other officers equally at fault in the investigation. She also said she does not believe her role warranted dismissal.

MacDonald said she “genuinely believed” she made an accurate recording of the sexual abuse claims made by the children. However, she did accept she failed to properly investigate the allegations.

“There was a collective failure from all involved and it was my honest held belief that I was not the officer in charge,” MacDonald said.

She said that it is “fair to point out” the fact the investigation did not appear in her computer system in the 13 months after it was reported, adding: “My honest held belief was PC Hayes would continue with the investigation.”

MacDonald said this has been a “painful experience”.

She said: “I would like to express my apologies for my failings. I have always prided myself on being a good police officer and this is not how I wanted to end my career.

“I have learnt a lot from this painful experience.”

The inquiry was adjourned for the panel to decide what the outcome of the disciplinary action would be. There was no case law around what can be done now as this may be the first time a retired officer has been found guilty of gross misconduct.

Detective Superintendent Steve Boniface, head of Sussex Police’s Professional Standards Department, said: “The finding is supported by Sussex Police and highlights our determination not bring into disrepute the enormous amount of good work carried out day-to-day by thousands of hard-working and enormously dedicated police officers and staff.”