Met officers face disciplinary action over 'highly offensive' image shared during Sarah Everard search

·4 min read
Wayne Couzens in handcuffs being interviewed at his home
Wayne Couzens in handcuffs being interviewed at his home

Two Metropolitan Police officers will face disciplinary action over a "highly offensive" graphic depicting violence against women shared on WhatsApp related to Sarah Everard's murderer, Wayne Couzens.

One constable who was on probation is accused of sending an image on the messaging platform to colleagues intended to be in reference to the kidnap and murder of Miss Everard by a serving officer, an Independent Police Complaints Commission (IOPC) investigation found.

The officer was off-duty at the time the message was sent, but later went on to staff a cordon as part of the search for the 33-year-old marketing executive.

The graphic, described by the IOPC as "highly offensive", was challenged by colleagues and reported to Scotland Yard internally, who in turn informed the police watchdog.

The officer now has a case to answer for misconduct for potentially breaching standards of professional behaviour and will face a misconduct meeting to answer the allegations.

A second probationary constable from the Met will also face a misconduct hearing for allegedly sharing the graphic and failing to challenge it.

A third officer did not have a case to answer, the IOPC found, after forwarding the image to two people seeking their advice on how to deal with the situation but not reporting it themselves.

Three officers face action over details shared about Couzens prosecution

A separate investigation concluded that three officers - one each from the Sussex, Dorset and Avon and Somerset forces - will face disciplinary action for using the Signal messaging platform to share information connected to Couzens’ prosecution.

It is alleged that on Mar 13 - several months before Couzens admitted murdering Miss Everard - an officer from Dorset Police posted details of an interview given by the murderer during a court hearing.

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."

After a six-month investigation, the watchdog also found 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 we 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," the IOPC said.

The Sussex officer faced a hearing this week, but was cleared of misconduct.

The officer did, however, "undergo the reflective practice review process in respect of one of the messages that had been sent and the tone of conversation", the IOPC said.

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

Four other officers who were members of the chat group had no case to answer, the investigation concluded.

'Allegations have capacity to further undermine public confidence in policing'

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 five serving police officers including three from Scotland Yard who allegedly shared racist, misogynistic and homophobic messages with Couzens on WhatsApp.

The police watchdog has launched a probe into the claims after the "vile" messages were discovered on Couzens’s phone by detectives investigating the murder of Sarah Everard.

Three serving officers from Scotland Yard, one from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary - where Couzens used to work - and one from the Norfolk Force are all being investigated by the Independent Office for Police Conduct over the messages.

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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