A POLICE sergeant should keep his job despite him being found guilty of gross misconduct after sensitive information about sex offenders ended up in a skip, his force has told a disciplinary hearing.

Martin Skirving-Chehab, a Cleveland Police officer for 15 years whose work has been officially commended twice, was found to have breached professional standards when he took two carrier bags of material home from a police unit for managing sex offenders in Middlesbrough.

His mother-in-law accidentally put some of the documents in the household recycling and a work book he used was found in a skip by a dog walker and passed to The Sun newspaper in June last year.

The officer was in the maternity unit with his wife Elise, who had just given birth to their first child, when he was contacted by a superior officer about the security breach.

On the third day of a disciplinary hearing, chairwoman Jayne Salt said: "The panel has decided that the conduct amounts to gross misconduct because there was a sustained failure to take data protection seriously, leading to significant reputational harm to the police and a risk of serious harm to members of the public - namely 55 registered sex offenders whose data was allowed to enter the public domain."

Joan Smith, for Cleveland Police, recommended to the panel that Sgt Skirving-Chehab, who used to work in sex offender management before becoming a family liaison officer dealing with murder cases, should receive a final written warning if he had learned his lesson.

The 42-year-old had removed the documents from the sex offender unit while he was on a day off after meeting a superior about a job opportunity.

He then stored them at his Hartlepool home, which was being renovated, for some weeks and they ended up in his kitchen.

The hearing heard he should have sorted the papers at work and disposed of them appropriately so there was no risk of them getting into the public domain.

Nicholas Walker, for Sgt Skirving-Chehab, said the public would not be best served by losing such a good officer.

Mr Walker said the officer had received commendations for his work helping the family of murdered pensioner Norma Bell and saving an elderly woman with dementia from the North Sea at night, and was a respected mentor for new recruits.

One of Mrs Bell's sons wrote to the hearing to commend his work, saying: "It's difficult to put into words how grateful my family and I still are for him helping us through the most difficult of experiences."

Mr Walker said the officer had spent 18 months - the whole of his baby's life - with the disciplinary hearing hanging over him, and he had suffered from stress but managed to keep going in his career, despite being on restricted duties.

Mr Walker recommended his client should receive a written warning, and the panel, sitting at the Grand Hotel, Hartlepool, were still considering their decision on Wednesday.

Director of Standards and Ethics, Cristiana Emsley said: "The public rightly expects that police personnel manage information responsibly and do not put the public at risk by any mismanagement of data, through negligence or deliberate action. 

"Today’s conclusion provides the public with a credible outcome of independent scrutiny by both the Independent Office for Police Conduct and a panel led by a Legally Qualified Chair into the actions of Sgt Skirving-Chehab; the level of sanction is indicative of the officer’s learning from this incident and therefore, he can continue his role.

"The result of the hearing should be a warning to our workforce that any mishandling of sensitive data can have serious consequences. Whilst it is accepted that police personnel may take data off police premises, it is their utmost responsibility to ensure it is secured and managed appropriately at all times. 

"A Force-wide compliance plan has already been put in place and this is being monitored by a dedicated Data Protection Auditor.

"On this note, I would like to thank the Force’s Data Protection Officer, whose comprehensive measures in the aftermath of this incident ensured the associated risk was effectively mitigated."