Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC - formerly IPCC)
Misconduct proceedings to follow social media investigations linked to Wayne Couzens
A total of five police officers from different forces will face misconduct proceedings after two separate investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct into social media messages related to former police constable Wayne Couzens.
In the first investigation, following a referral from the Metropolitan Police Service in March this year, we investigated allegations that a probationary constable used WhatsApp to share with colleagues an inappropriate graphic, depicting violence against women.
Our investigation, completed in August, indicated that the graphic was intended to be in reference to the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer. We established that the officer was off duty at the time but went on to staff a cordon as part of the search for Ms Everard.
The graphic was challenged by colleagues and reported internally.
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.
We found that one other 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.
We also found that another constable did not have a case to answer for misconduct but will undergo reflective practice. This was on the basis that while they thought the graphic was inappropriate, rather than reporting it, the image was forwarded to two people seeking their advice on how to deal with the situation.
In a separate, second investigation, we 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 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 Ms Everard.
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. 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.
Evidence gathered during our six-month 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 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.
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.
Our investigation found no case to answer for a further four officers who were members of the chat group.
IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem recently 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.
“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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