A SENIOR cop has been found dead at his home after failing to attend a police station to be charged over possessing child abuse images.
The body of Met Police chief inspector Richard Watkinson, 49, was discovered by colleagues concerned about his welfare.
Police said his death was “unexplained” though not suspicious and sources said it is suspected Watkinson killed himself while under “huge mental strain” over the case.
Further toxicology tests are being carried out to establish his cause of death. The coroner has been informed and an inquest will take place in due course.
One source said that Watkinson was due to report back on bail last Thursday morning to be charged over an alleged network of online paedophiles.
He is said to have feared he was about to be publicly named in connection with the alleged conspiracy to distribute indecent images of children.
The source said: “He was due to report back on bail on Thursday morning and when he failed to turn up officers went to his home that afternoon and discovered his body.”
The Met Police said: “Met officers attended an address in Buckinghamshire on the afternoon of Thursday, 12 January following welfare concerns and found the body of a man in his 40s’.”
A Thames Valley Police spokesman added: “Officers were called to Saunderton, Princes Risborough, at just after 3.35pm on Thursday 12 January.
“Sadly, the body of a man was located inside a property at that location.
“The man’s death is unexplained but not suspicious. A file will be prepared for the coroner.
“His next of kin have been made aware and our thoughts are with the man’s family and friends.”
Watkinson was first arrested 18 months ago when up to thousands of indecent images were allegedly discovered in a secret room at his home.
He was nicknamed ‘Sir Smashy’ after a Harry Enfield character by junior officers on the Met’s West Area Basic Command Unit where he worked.
He was a popular and high profile officer often wheeled out by the Met to give public statements following high-profile stings and police operations.
But colleagues were “shocked” by Watkinson’s arrest on 9 July 2021.
Watkinson was originally held over allegations of misconduct in public office, sending obscene messages, corrupt exercise of police powers and data protection breaches.
It followed a joint probe by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) and the Met’s professional standards unit.
During a search of the cop’s home, investigators are said to have found a secret trap-door which led to an area where computer equipment allegedly containing the child abuse images was found.
The material is said to have been Category A and B – the two most serious bands – which feature children being sexually abused.
Following the alleged discovery of the illegal material, Chief Insp Watkinson was further arrested 11 days later on suspicion of offences including conspiracy to distribute indecent images of children, voyeurism and misconduct in public office.
He was released on bail and suspended from duties while investigations continued.
A “lengthy and complex” investigation was carried out into the case by Met Specialist Crime officers in liaison with cops in Scotland and Lincolnshire and with advice from CPS lawyers.
Two other men – neither of them police officers – were charged last week with conspiracy to distribute or show indecent images of children and are due to appear in court shortly.
Sources said Watkinson feared he was also going to be charged to appear in court.
One former colleague said: “He was a popular governor and his arrest caused a great deal of shock.
“There was talk of thousands of images and videos being found behind a trap door in his home.
“He had been under huge mental strain while he was on bail and there were concerns that he was suicidal.
“The worst fears for his health have now been realised and he was found dead last week. It is suspected he killed himself.”
Suicide risks among child sexual abuse (CSA) offenders and those accused of accessing indecent images of children (IIOC) were highlighted in an academic study funded by NHS England in 2021.
While no official figures for numbers exist, the research indicated suicides among perpetrators are more than 100 times the general population.
Temporary chief inspector Richard Watkinson is the officer in charge of the Met Police’s Hillingdon BWV launch, which took place this month. He explains how his officers use the cameras, and how that has been beneficial for prosecuting crimes.
According to him, once the device is docked and the footage uploaded the officers go through it using Axon’s Evidence.com content management solution. If it’s useful they’ll electronically markup the 20 or 30 seconds of video that will be important once the case gets to court. Links to the footage are then created within the software and shared with the Crown Prosecution Service, using an existing secure electronic submission facility. A video that is not retained as evidence or for a policing purpose is automatically deleted within 31 days.
For Watkinson the system has had benefits beyond those that were originally anticipated in the early days of the project. “There are certain crimes where, after the incident has taken place, the victim is too scared to give evidence – for instance in a case involving domestic violence,” he says. “Using the cameras we’ve already had successful prosecutions from incidental details within a particular shot. That can be the victim’s face, the reaction of the husband, or the state of the house.”
He continues: “Similarly, we’ve seen increased [prison]sentences when we’ve gone to court. Judges can be quite aloof, and while you can describe how someone behaved towards you it’s much more effective if you can show it. If you see someone acting violently it paints a much different picture than you might see in court with them standing there in a suit.”
The other side of that, according to Watkinson, is that there have also been occasions where officers have been caught on camera saying things that were inappropriate. This happened recently when an officer got into a fight with a suspect and made some “unguarded remarks”, footage of which the force had no choice but to present to the CPS as part of the prosecution in question.
“To get around it,” says Watkinson, “we’ll have to explain it to the judge and tell them that the officer involved has already been disciplined over the issue. We accept that we were wrong, but it doesn’t mitigate what was going on with the suspect when the incident took place. The evidence is too good not to use.”