A police constable falsely claimed he held a dead child in his arms after the Manchester Arena bombing.
Lee Howard, 32, even went onto a BBC radio station describing how he had arrived minutes after the tragedy and witnessed the dead and dying as he desperately tried to save victims.
But a court heard this afternoon (Friday), that Howard, from Hyde in Tameside, only arrived at the Arena about 80 minutes after the terrible explosion along with colleagues on May 22, 2017, and was only deployed to the outer cordon.
Howard’s lies came to light during an investigation by employers Greater Manchester Police about his misuse of the force’s computer systems, which led to him appearing in the dock at Liverpool Crown Court.
The investigation into his activities began after the force received information from the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, who were making inquiries about a Northern Irish policeman and found WhatsApp messages between him and Howard about the Arena bombing.
Howard even appeared on the Stephen Nolan show on Radio Ulster talking about his experience, the hearing was told.
Howard’s home was raided by the GMP Anti-Corruption Unit on June 21, 2018, and his phone and electronic devices were seized.
This led to the eight charges being brought against him with the first going back to just two months after he had joined the force from British Transport Police in 2017.
Detectives found that after WhatsApp conversations with his wife about a recently retired GMP officer, whose 11-year-old son attended the Stockport school where she was a teacher, Howard accessed the force computer to get information about the officer.
He sent this to his wife and in the messages “said that he was like AC12, which is the fictional unit from the TV series Line of Duty,” said Robert Dudley, prosecuting.
The same month, in further messages to her, he told her personal details about a suspected robber and “disclosed personal and disparaging details” about the female victim.
Mr Dudley said that in July 2017 and January the next year he again illegitimately accessed the force's computer system for information.
In June 2018, in a WhatsApp conversation with a man, he sent images from the system showing facial injuries suffered by a historical alleged rape victim, breaching their right to anonymity.
The court heard that the same month he accessed the profile of a 15-year-old and stored it on his phone and, in an online chat to a woman in Northern Ireland, he talked about “showing a hilarious mugshot of a kid in custody”.
The very next day, shortly after starting work, he accessed the computer system about a nine-year-old in foster care. After chatting on WhatsApp with his wife, he identified the child’s natural mother and her photograph.
“As part of the conversation with his wife the defendant messaged, ‘Don’t want social worker finding out I’m nosing x’,” said Mr Dudley
"He then provided his wife with the criminal record details of the child’s mother."
When interviewed about the offences which spanned 15 months Howard, of Zorbit Mews, Hyde, Tameside, made no comment.
However, he pleaded guilty to eight offences involving unauthorised access to computer data and disclosing personal data.
Howard was allowed to walk free from court by a judge, who was told he was mentally ill at the time and is still receiving treatment.
Peter Doyle, QC, defending, said, “This offending occurred when he was unwell.”
He had been “a young officer, very much an ambassador for the police.”
After the offences came to light he was taken off front-line duties and put on back office work “where ironically his time was spent dealing with computer and data.
"There have no occasions to be concerned about the way he performed these back office duties.
“He is responding properly to medication and management but is still unwell.”
Mr Doyle said that the former soldier, who has not been suspended by the force, will face a meeting with the Chief Constable.
“The likelihood is this officer will either face dismissal or in recognition of is mental illness, which we submit drove this conduct, a requirement to resign. This has less stigma but same consequences.”
He said that his “bizarre behaviour and engaging in irrational banter may have been a response to pressures at home and wider afield.”
Judge Menary told Howard: “Permission to access systems carries a high level of trust and anything that threatens the integrity of the systems is bound to be regarded as serious.
"It undermines public confidence in the police ability to safeguard sensitive and personal information.”
He said the explanation for “this bizarre behaviour”, including passing on information which may have been “completely inaccurate, false and made up by you may lie in the fact that for some significant time you have been suffering from mental illness.”
The judge added he accepted that Howard had not benefited in any way from his behaviour and imposed a two year community order.
He also ordered him to carry out 150 days unpaid work and five days rehabilitation activities and to pay £750 towards prosecution costs.”