Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
Devon and Cornwall Police officer found not guilty of offence under Communications Act
A Devon and Cornwall Police officer has been acquitted of the criminal offence of sending a grossly offensive image, a meme relating to George Floyd, following an Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) investigation.
Sergeant Geraint Jones, 47, was found not guilty at the hearing before a district judge at Plymouth Magistrates’ Court yesterday. He had sent the image on 30 May 2020 to a WhatsApp group that included a number of other police officers and staff. The altered image inserted a naked adult film actor in the place of a police officer kneeling on the neck of George Floyd. The original image was widely reported and showed Mr Floyd as he was laying on the ground in Minneapolis shortly before his death.
Our investigation began in June 2020 following a referral from the force after one of the WhatsApp group members reported the image to their force manager. At its conclusion in October we sent our investigation report to the Crown Prosecution Service which authorised the charge under S.127 of the Communications Act 2003.
IOPC regional director Catrin Evans yesterday said:
“At the end of our investigation we submitted our report to the CPS as in our view there was an indication that a criminal offence had been committed. A district judge has now determined the officer’s actions did not amount to a criminal offence. We also shared our report, which found the officer has a disciplinary case to answer for gross misconduct, with Devon and Cornwall Police. It will now be for the force to take forward disciplinary action.
“Criminal and disciplinary proceedings serve two different purposes. One is to determine whether someone has broken the law, and the other to determine whether an officer has breached police standards of professional behaviour. It will be for the police disciplinary process to determine whether the case against Sergeant Jones is proven and, if so, what the appropriate sanction is.”
In respect of other serving officers among the group, we found no case to answer for misconduct. However, Devon and Cornwall Police agreed with our view that the performance of two individuals did fall short of expectations. A detention officer, who could not be shown to have viewed the entire image, has received informal management action from the force over their response to the message, and a sergeant is subject to reflective practice procedures for not reporting the matter straight away.
The force has since acted on recommendations made by the IOPC to strongly remind custody staff and the wider force of their expected behaviour under the police Code of Ethics and the Equality Act, and that they are duty bound to challenge and report inappropriate behaviour by any colleague. The force also agreed with our recommendation to take steps to ensure that all staff comply with national police guidance about posting comments or images on social media.
Our learning recommendations were:
- The IOPC recommends that Devon and Cornwall Police take steps to ensure all officers and staff within Torquay Custody suite and the wider organisation conform to the expectations of their behaviour under the Code of Ethics, whilst on and off duty, and promote a safe and open culture, which makes clear to officers and staff that they are duty bound to challenge and report behaviour that does not align with this Code.
- The IOPC recommends that Devon and Cornwall Police take steps to ensure all officers and staff within Torquay Custody suite and the wider organisation conform to the expectations of their behaviour under section 26 of the Equality Act 2010, whilst on and off duty, and promote a safe and open culture which makes clear to officers and staff that they are duty bound to challenge and report behaviour that does not align with this Act.
- The IOPC recommends that Devon and Cornwall Police take steps to ensure all officers and staff within Torquay Custody suite and the wider organisation are complying with the Association of Chief Police Officers’ Guidelines on the Safe use of the Internet and Social Media by Police Officers and Police Staff 2013. They should also make clear to officers and staff that WhatsApp and other instant messaging platforms are considered forms of social media.
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