A Sussex police officer has been cleared of misconduct at a secret hearing after being part of an online group where potentially prejudicial details of a Wayne Couzens court hearing were shared.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct investigated allegations seven officers from several forces breached standards of professional behaviour when they used the Signal messaging platform to share information about the murderer of Sarah Everard.
The Sussex officer was found had a case to answer for misconduct for alleged breaches of professional standards of behaviour for conduct, authority, respect and courtesy and challenging and reporting improper behaviour.
However, in a hearing held behind closed doors this week, they were cleared – 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.
It was alleged that on 13 March 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 Sarah Everard.
Officers from other forces had joined in the conversation, endorsing comments made by others and making unprofessional remarks about Couzens.
We concluded that the Dorset 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.
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.
A separate investigation into social media messages, including an inappropriate graphic, depicting violence against women, has resulted in two officers from the Metropolitan Police facing misconduct hearings.
One, a probationary constable who shared the image, later staffed a cordon as part of the search for Ms Everard. The other shared the graphic and did not challenge it.
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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