Five police officers from four forces are facing disciplinary action over messages shared on social media about Sarah Everard’s killer, according to the police watchdog.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said two officers from the Metropolitan Police and one from each of the forces in Sussex, Dorset and Avon and Somerset are subject to misconduct proceedings.
Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens is serving a whole-life sentence after kidnapping, raping and murdering 33-year-old Ms Everard earlier this year.
IOPC regional director Sal Naseem said: “The allegations involved in these two investigations, if proven, have the capacity to further undermine public confidence in policing.
“They also once more illustrate the potential consequences for officers and come at a time when policing standards and culture have never been more firmly in the spotlight.”
A Met Police constable on probation, who went on to staff a cordon as part of the search for Ms Everard, was investigated over allegations they used WhatsApp “to share with colleagues an inappropriate graphic, depicting violence against women” while off-duty.
The IOPC said: “The image was highly offensive and the officer now has a case to answer for misconduct for potentially breaching standards of professional behaviour for conduct and authority, respect and courtesy. The officer will face a misconduct meeting to answer the allegations.”
Another Pc still on probation had a case to answer for “allegedly sharing the graphic and failing to challenge it” and will also be subject to a misconduct meeting.
The police watchdog found there was no case to answer for a third Met Pc but they will “undergo reflective practice” on the basis that “while they thought the graphic was inappropriate, rather than reporting it the image was forwarded to two people seeking their advice on how to deal with the situation”.
In a second probe, the IOPC looked into allegations seven officers from other forces breached standards by using the encrypted messaging app Signal to share information on Couzens’ prosecution.
An officer from Dorset Police, who was on secondment from the force, will face a gross misconduct hearing after being accused of posting details of the interview Couzens gave under caution – several months before the killer admitted to her murder and before the information could be made public.
The IOPC said: “We concluded that the officer had a case to answer for gross misconduct after we looked at whether the messages, had they got into the public domain, would have brought discredit on the police service and potentially interfered with the course of justice.
“We also considered whether there was a legitimate policing purpose in sharing the information.”
The investigation indicated officers from other forces had “joined in the conversation, endorsing comments made by others and making unprofessional remarks about Couzens”, the watchdog added.
As a result, an officer from Avon and Somerset Constabulary will face a misconduct meeting.
Another officer, who was on secondment from the Sussex force, will also “undergo the reflective practice review process in respect of one of the messages that had been sent and the tone of conversation” after it was found misconduct was “not proven” at a private meeting.
The IOPC has withheld the ranks of these officers in case making this public leads to the individuals involved being identified. Neither could it disclose where the Dorset and Sussex officers had been working while on secondment.
Misconduct meetings are generally conducted behind closed doors while hearings are meant to take place in public.
According to IOPC guidance, misconduct proceedings are now focused on serious breaches of standards, with a new process called reflective practice introduced which encourages officers to “reflect and learn from any mistakes or errors” rather than only having a “punitive approach to errors and mistakes”.
The measures imposed as part of reflective practice are understood to be decided based on the specifics of the case but could entail a meeting with a line manager or being referred for further training.
The IOPC found there was no case to answer against a further four officers who were members of the chat group.
Investigations are continuing into the conduct of five officers from three forces, three from the Met, one from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary and one from Norfolk Constabulary, and one former Met officer over allegations they sent “discriminatory messages” over WhatsApp between March and October 2019 after the information was recovered from an old mobile phone found during the police probe into Ms Everard’s murder.
The IOPC is also still looking into how Kent Police in 2015, and the Met this year, handled allegations of indecent exposure which have been linked to Couzens.
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