A police drugs expert sold kit commonly used for growing cannabis on eBay, despite the risk of it falling into the hands of organised criminal gangs or attic bedroom growers.
Grantham man Stuart Clarke, who was a voice for Nottinghamshire Police’s war on drugs for a decade, pocketed £10,825 from selling items on the site between January 2019 and November 2020, including hydroponics which aid the process of growing plants without soil.
At a misconduct hearing last Tuesday, Nottinghamshire Police’s chief constable Craig Guildford determined that, given Clarke’s role, his behaviour was an embarrassment to the force. In his role, Clarke acted as an expert witness in a significant number of cases involving drugs over many years — many of them high profile — and has others pending before crown court.
Clarke, a member of the force’s drug factories dismantling team, did not attend the hearing at the police headquarters, Sherwood Lodge, where he had been based.
Ch Cons Guildford said the allegations were that Clarke, who resigned while under investigation, sold hydroponics while a member of the dismantling team — items that could be used in illegal acts. He said Clarke had capitalised on knowledge gained through his role.
After considering the evidence, Ch Cons Guildford determined that, given Clarke’s role as a police drugs expert, his behaviour would cause embarrassment to the force and amounted to discreditable conduct. His conclusion was Clarke would have been sacked had he not resigned.
An investigation into Clarke began in October after a routine vetting check revealed he had been selling hydroponics kit and lighting equipment from his private eBay account. Following the discovery, Nottinghamshire Police referred the matter to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) which ordered the force investigate under its direction.
During the course of the investigation, Clarke was arrested on suspicion of having stolen equipment seized by police from cannabis grows that had been stored for disposal, but he was released without charge. Mr Guildford said there was no evidence of discernible unlawful, dishonest or criminal behaviour.
Clarke told investigators from a professional standards unit he bought the items at car boot sales.
Mr Guildford described Clarke as someone the force had invested heavily in and said Clarke fully accepted the equipment he sold could have assisted in unlawful acts, adding evidence against him was “clear, compelling and highly persuasive”.
He accepted the former officer’s apology but added there were ways he could have supplemented his income through his employment or outside of it without resorting to what he had done.
He said Clarke had let himself and the public down and acknowledged there would be disquiet surrounding an officer lining his pockets from the sale of equipment used in the cultivation of cannabis.
Clarke resigned in November before a decision by the IOPC as to whether the matter would be pursued through the courts or a misconduct hearing. The decision was that Clarke would appear before a hearing charged with gross misconduct for breaching professional behaviour relating to discreditable conduct in duties and responsibilities.
Speaking at the hearing on Clarke’s behalf, Nottinghamshire Police Federation chairman Mark Petrovic said Clarke fully admitted the breaches and the level of discreditable conduct. He said Clarke denied the items were stolen.
“In hindsight, he has reflected on his actions and put his hands up at the earliest opportunity,” said Mr Petrovic.
“He has always been against the illegal use of drugs as he has witnessed their affects in his career.
“He wishes to apologise to his fellow officers and Notts Police and was affected by personal issues at the time.”
Although he resigned, Clarke’s name will be added to a disbarred list of individuals who cannot get a job with any police service.
IOPC director of major investigations Steve Noonan said: “For a police officer to sell such quantities of hydroponic equipment knowing its potential for criminal use was clearly inappropriate and a breach of professional standards, and even more so in Stuart Clarke’s case given his specialist knowledge and the role he carried out in the anti drugs unit. Such activities undermine public confidence in policing and he has paid a heavy price for that.
“The panel’s decision shows that such behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
After the hearing, Ch Cons Guildford said: “Nobody is above the law and such cases are always taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.
“Reputationally, the conduct of Mr Clarke was thoroughly discreditable and undermines all the hard work which our dedicated and professional officers and staff undertake on a daily basis. Consequently had he still been serving, he would have been dismissed.
“The Nottinghamshire public and I rightly expect the very highest standards from our officers in how they conduct themselves both on and off duty.”
The force implemented recommendations in the investigation report aimed at improving administrative processes within the cannabis dismantling unit.
A serving officer said: “This is hugely embarrassing for Nottinghamshire Police and must be music to the ears of defence solicitors and barristers with clients behind bars or with prosecutions pending.”