A POLICE officer who posted sensitive information on Facebook thought it was in the public domain and was helping to fight crime.

PC Stuart Ayling was sanctioned by a police misconduct panel after he posted information about a group of criminals acting in the county on the social media site.

But, as the hearing at Cumbria Police's headquarters was told, the officer did not know the information he posted was private.

The south Cumbria-based PC was arrested in November for data protection offences and faced the prospect of being sacked at the hearing.

But a panel decided to give PC Ayling a written warning after the circumstances of the allegation were explained in the hearing.

Documents published after the hearing said: "PC Ayling forwarded an email from his police email account to his personal email as well as that of this partner's.

"This email was an intelligence bulletin and contained information relating to a team of travelling criminals committing rural crime in the North West and the information was marked as official not as official sensitive as perhaps it should have been.

"PC Ayling believed the bulletin was already in the public domain due to the Crimestoppers reference and had sent it to a closed neighbourhood watch group/farm watch group to assist the public in preventing crime.

Police were said to have been worried that PC Ayling publishing the names of criminals could have led to vigilante attacks.

"There was no complaint from a member of the public about PC Ayling’s disclosure. However, there is reputational harm for the police service and public’s confidence in it could be impacted," the hearing was told.

"PC Ayling’s actions could have led to vigilante behaviour against named individuals, as tensions were heightened in this particular area of the County because of the ongoing quad bike thefts."

The hearing was told PC Ayling had worked as an officer for 17 years and was well thought of in the community. It was said this event was a 'one off' with 'no pre-meditation'.