Three police officers who joked about migrants drowning in sea sacked

Three police officers who were heard making homophobic, racist and sexist remarks have been sacked, while two more would have been dismissed if they hadn’t quit.

Today former members of Hampshire Police’s Serious Organised Crime Unit (Socu) were punished after a bugging device recorded them making remarks including about migrants drowning in sea.

Explicit fake “pornographic” images of Royal Family members were also shared in a work WhatsApp group, a disciplinary panel was told.

Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox and Pc James Oldfield were dismissed, while retired Detective Inspector Tim Ireson and former Pc Craig Bannerman heard they would have been sacked if they had not already left the force.

Another officer, Trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson, was given a final written warning.

They were found to have committed gross misconduct after they were recorded making the comments while working in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

Amongst the conversations recorded were comments that the only black officer in the unit had arrived from Africa in a crate.

A bug was planted to make the covert recording between March 9 2018 and April 2 2018 following an anonymous complaint to a whistleblowing service.

Prosecutor Jason Beer QC said that although the recording only lasted 24 days the investigation uncovered ‘enough racism and sexism to last a lifetime’.

The panel’s chairman, lawyer John Bassett said: “Police officers cannot pick or choose which of the standards they abide by… In the panel’s opinion the matters it’s found in this case are the antithesis of what the public expect.

“The conduct was shameful.”

Three of the PCs in the team, which was described as ‘ableist, sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic’, were heard joking that ‘Albanian migrants’ should be shot on entry to the UK or killed with a nerve agent and called women ‘sluts and whores’.

Joanna Bunch, an intelligence analyst who worked on jobs with the team, said: “The SOCU Office North just seemed to be stuck in a time from 25-years-ago.”

DI Ireson had retired and PC Bannerman had resigned since the covert recordings were made at the force’s serious organised crime unit.

Luke Ponte, representing Mr Ireson, said that his client had not used discriminatory language but had used offensive language such as swear words which “risked encouraging others to do the same”.

He added: “He was not himself a racist or sexist or phobic or a bully, he is not someone who would target the weak or the vulnerable or the different, he is not someone or was not an officer insensitive to the issues of diversity.

“A culture developed, and to an extent, he allowed to develop in the Socu office, and he accepts that was caused in part by his failings of management.

“His intention was to permit a more relaxed atmosphere which he felt would sustain a cohesive and productive team.

“He now sees too much allowance was given and boundaries became blurred.”

Edmund Gritt, representing Det Sgt Willcox, said that his client had given 27 years of service to Hampshire police and had “eliminated some of the most serious criminals in the county”.

He said that the 52-year-old wished to apologise to the people of Hampshire and added: “His failings in his own conduct gave rise to the environment, the only approach he should have adopted was a zero tolerance approach and that includes zero tolerance towards himself as well.”

Guy Ladenburg, representing Det Sgt Lage, said there was “no malicious intent” behind “teasing” comments made towards the only black officer in the unit and he had shown remorse for the “reputational damage” he has caused to the force.

He added: “He is obviously a first class police officer who has let himself down in an uncharacteristic lapse on a small handful of occasions.”

Jason Beer QC, presenting the case against the officers, said that following an anonymous complaint, covert recording devices were placed in the unit’s offices between March 9 and April 2, 2018.

Mr Beer told the hearing: “This was a specialist police unit that enjoyed relative isolation from the rest of the force due to the sensitive and sometimes covert nature of the work that it undertook.

“That isolation and a lack of leadership by Mr Ireson and Det Sgt Willcox appears to have led to a toxic, abhorrent culture developing in the unit amongst some officers.

“(This) is inconsistent with the values and standards of the police service in the 21st century and inconsistent with continued service in the police service.”

He added: “It was a unit that was plain nasty that displayed attitudes towards groups and communities that police officers are called upon to protect.”

Olivia Pinkney, Chief Constable of Hampshire Police, said: “During the hearing, the panel heard a catalogue of sexist, racist, homophobic and ableist language and commentary that has rightly shocked us all and understandably left people with many questions about how this has been allowed to happen.

“I have always said that policing is built upon the values of professionalism, compassion, courage and integrity and the public have a right to expect the highest standards from the officers and staff who are entrusted to keep them safe.

“These officers have failed to deliver on the promise they made to uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people, the oath they declared when they took the office of constable.

“Policing has never before been under so much appropriate scrutiny to ensure an inclusive environment for all our officers and staff to flourish and bring their best.

“There is no place in my force, or in policing more widely, for those who do not live up to this standard.

“These behaviours fell far short of those expected by me. These officers have undermined the trust and confidence of our communities and damaged the reputations of their colleagues who do treat people with respect and uphold the values and standards quite rightly expected by those we police.

“I would hope that the public have seen that we don’t accept this type of behaviour, that when it is raised that we will take action and we will be open and transparent about that, no matter how difficult that may be.”