January 2019

Trusted police officer and scout leader exposed himself to teen during webcam chat – despite previous warning over social media use

A trusted police officer and scout leader exposed himself during a webcam conversation with a teenager.

Stephen Purnell, who was employed by Northumbria Police and was also Assistant Commissioner in the scout movement for the Durham area, had asked a 16-year-old boy intimate questions during a series of conversations before he showed his private parts.

The youth told police he was “shocked and embarrassed” by what he saw during the incident, which happened between July 2012 and September 2013.

Newcastle Crown Court heard 38-year-old Purnell, who was scout leader at the Houghton unit, had already had a warning, in around 2010, from the Scouting District Commissioner for using Facebook to speak to teens who were under 18.

His communication with and exposure to the teenager was eventually revealed when police seized his home computer equipment in April 2017 as part of an investigation into his use of the police force computer.

The court heard he received a caution for misuse of the police system late last year and resigned from the force. He now earns £1,200 per month working in a call centre.

Prosecutor Paul Reid told the court Purnell had chatted with the teen, on his home computer, using MSN, Facebook and Snapchat, initially about everyday matters.

Mr Reid added: “It then went on to more personal subjects.

“The defendant said he thought he was bisexual and asked if he watched pornography and if he had ever thought about experimenting in sexual matters with a man.

“On one occasion he exposed his private parts to him, on camera.”

The court heard in later messages Purnell apologised for the “webcam c**p” and told the teen: “It is not something you should have seen, sorry.”

Purnell, of Washington, told police he had had “banter” with the boy but denied talking over webcam.

He later pleaded guilty to exposure.

Judge Stephen Earl sentenced him to a community order for two years with supervision requirements and £1,500 costs.

Purnell must sign the sex offenders register for five years.

Judge Earl said it was a concern that Purnell had already been “warned off” with regard to social media contact.

The judge told him: “You had had safeguarding training.

“Despite that, you were challenged in about 2010 by the County Commissioner for using Facebook to communicate with people under 18.

“You were given various advice and warnings about the inappropriateness of such contact.”