A teenager was exposed to 'years' of online grooming by a sexual predator after a Northamptonshire Police officer ignored an email containing crucial evidence.
An investigation by the police watchdog has found a former Northamptonshire detective constable, Andrew Lock, failed to act on evidence that could have led to the early conviction of the teenager's groomer.
The family say the error led to the abuser grooming their child for two years straight, during which time the victim exchanged nearly 4,000 messages with the predator, many of which were of a sexual nature and included pictures.
In December 2014, former DC Lock was assigned to investigate a woman's concerns that her teenage child was the victim of online sexual grooming by a person possibly acting outside of the UK.
The victim's mobile phone was analysed and an email containing all the texts from the suspect were sent to DC Lock as evidence.
But when it arrived, the DC open the email, read it and deleted it - without viewing the texts available for download.
Then, when Interpol emailed DC Lock to follow up enquiries, he ignored their email too, believing it 'disproportionate' to reply.
The case was closed in March 2015.
However, the family contacted the police a year later in 2016 to say their child was still being contacted and 'controlled' by the online groomer.
Northamptonshire Police reopened the case. When the phone was later examined, officers found 3,925 texts, photos and videos on the phone - many of which were sexually explicit and showed the control the suspect had over the victim.
The offender was jailed in 2016 and handed an extended sexual harm prevention order.
The report read: "Northamptonshire Police received a formal complaint from the teenager’s family in November 2016 saying that, had a thorough investigation been conducted in 2014, their child would not have been subjected to continued abuse until the suspect was arrested."
As a result, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) looked into DC Lock's original investigation and in 2018 a panel ruled his actions amounted to gross misconduct.
The panel ruled the DC would not have been dismissed as a reprimand for the slip up - but by then, Mr Lock had since quit the force.
The IOPC report into the investigation was published on February 20, 2019.