Five officers to face disciplinary action in wake of Sarah Everard killing

A total of five police officers from different forces are to face misconduct proceedings relating to social media messages linked to former police constable Wayne Couzens, the officer convicted of the rape and murder of Sarah Everard.

Oct 22, 2021
By Tony Thompson
Wayne Couzens

The first of the investigations, carried out by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) followed a referral from the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) in March this year, and involved allegations that a probationary constable used WhatsApp to share with colleagues an inappropriate graphic, depicting violence against women.

The IOPC found that the graphic was intended to be in reference to the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer and that, while the officer responsible was off duty at the time, he went on to staff a cordon as part of the search for Ms Everard.

The graphic was challenged by colleagues and reported internally. 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.

A second probationary constable had a case to answer for misconduct for allegedly sharing the graphic and failing to challenge it. The officer will face a misconduct meeting for allegedly breaching standards of professional behaviour for challenging and reporting improper behaviour, conduct and authority, respect and courtesy.

A third constable will undergo reflective practice on the basis that, while they thought the graphic was inappropriate, rather than reporting it, they forwarded the image to two people seeking their advice on how to deal with the situation.

In a separate, second investigation, the IOPC looked at allegations that seven officers from several forces breached standards of professional behaviour when they used the Signal messaging platform to share information connected to Couzens’ prosecution.

It was alleged that on March 13 an officer from Dorset Police posted details of an interview given by Couzens under caution which were presented during a non-reportable court hearing. That was several months before Couzens admitted murdering Ms Everard.

The IOPC concluded that the officer had a case to answer for gross misconduct after it 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. The investigation also looked at whether there was a legitimate policing purpose in sharing the information

Dorset Police will now organise a gross misconduct hearing for the officer, who was on secondment from the force, for potential breaches of professional standards of behaviour relating to confidentiality, conduct, and challenging and reporting improper behaviour.

Evidence gathered during the IOPC investigation also indicated that officers from other forces had joined in the conversation, endorsing comments made by others and making unprofessional remarks about Couzens.

In relation to this the IOPC found that two officers, from Sussex Police and Avon and Somerset Constabulary, had a case to answer for misconduct for alleged breaches of professional standards of behaviour for conduct, authority, respect and courtesy; and in the case of the Sussex officer standards for challenging and reporting improper behaviour.

At a meeting held this week for the Sussex officer misconduct was not proven although it was determined that the officer, who was on secondment from the force, should undergo the reflective practice review process in respect of one of the messages that had been sent and the tone of conversation.

The officer from Avon and Somerset Constabulary will face a misconduct meeting in due course.

The investigation found no case to answer for a further four officers who were members of the chat group.

IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem said: “In April this year we warned about the unacceptable use of social media by officers based on a number of cases involving the posting of offensive and inappropriate material.

“We wrote to the National Police Chiefs Council, asking them to remind forces and officers of their obligations under the police Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Behaviour.

“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.”

The IOPC is continuing to investigate the conduct of five officers from three forces and one former officer who allegedly sent discriminatory messages as part of a WhatsApp group between March and October 2019. The messages were recovered from an old mobile phone discovered during the police investigation into Ms Everard’s murder.

Other ongoing investigations are looking at how Kent Police in 2015, and the MPS in 2021, handled allegations of indecent exposure now linked to Couzens. Both investigations are considering whether policies and procedures were followed, and if any issues identified may have impacted on the vetting of the former officer who is now serving a life sentence for his crimes.

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