Commanding officer of ‘toxic’ Hampshire unit admits management failings

The commanding officer of a “toxic” specialist police unit accepts that his “failings of management” helped lead to the discriminatory atmosphere that developed among his officers, a tribunal has heard.

Jan 5, 2021
By Website Editor

Six police officers could face the sack after being found to have committed gross misconduct after they were recorded making “abhorrent” comments while working at Hampshire Constabulary’s Serious Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) office in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

The officers were recorded by a bugging device making “abhorrent” racist, sexist, homophobic and other inappropriate comments.

Retired Detective Inspector Tim Ireson, Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox, former Police Constable Craig Bannerman, trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson and Police Constable James Oldfield have all been found to have breached professional standards at a disciplinary hearing.

Mr Ireson and Det Sgt Willcox were also accused at the tribunal of failing to fulfil their supervisory roles to stop or report the inappropriate behaviour.

The panel is now sitting to determine what sanction the officers should face, with dismissal an option for gross misconduct, which they have all been found to have committed.

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 Constabulary 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.”

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

And “explicit and highly offensive” fake pornographic images of the Royal Family were also posted on a work WhatsApp group.

The hearing continues.

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