Gun police suspended over photograph

Eight members of a police force's elite gun crime unit have been suspended for "inappropriate behaviour".

The officers, part of Merseyside Police's Matrix Disruption Unit, are facing a misconduct investigation by their force's professional standards department.

A mobile phone photograph, published in the Liverpool Echo today, appears to show officers "clowning around" during a raid on a suspect's home.

There are also allegations that items seized during search operations later appeared on the internet auction site eBay.

Matrix leads Merseyside Police's fight against drug-related gun and gang crime, which has blighted the Liverpool region.

The unit played a significant role in targeting the gangs associated with the murder of 11-year-old Rhys Jones, gunned down in Croxteth in August 2007.

Matrix officers have been credited with a 26% reduction in firearms incidents in the last year.

Merseyside Police's assistant chief constable Andy Ward said: "I want to be absolutely clear - high standards of professionalism are non-negotiable within Merseyside Police.

"Any suggestion that officers are not meeting those high standards is taken seriously and thoroughly investigated."

Three officers - a sergeant and two Pcs - were arrested for misconduct in March in connection with allegations that items seized during raids later appeared on eBay, the force said.

A further three Pcs were suspended and interviewed under caution last month after the mobile phone picture emerged during the course of those investigations.

Two senior Matrix officers were also suspended from duty in connection with "wider managerial issues".

Mr Ward added: "I would stress that no charges have been brought against the three arrested officers and a thorough criminal investigation is ongoing.

"As part of that investigation we have interviewed another three officers under caution and they have also been suspended.

"As the professional standards department investigation into the theft progressed it became apparent that there was further inappropriate behaviour among Matrix officers as they conducted search operations.

"As a result of the ongoing investigations, a further two officers have been suspended following misconduct allegations relating to wider managerial and conduct issues."

Mr Ward said Merseyside Police had also imposed a shake-up of Matrix officers to restore public confidence in the unit.

He said: "It is essential in our fight against gun crime that communities have absolute confidence in the Matrix team.

"It is also important that Matrix officers do not become complacent and continue to strive to meet the high standards the force demands.

"For this reason, I have made changes within Matrix. There has been a shake-up of officers right across the various uniformed Matrix Disruption teams.

"Matrix is at the forefront of the fight against gun crime. Its officers do a difficult and demanding job, dealing with some of the most dangerous people in our society but high standards of professionalism and integrity are non-negotiable.

"The overwhelming majority of Matrix officers are a credit to our force but the actions of a small minority have a disproportionate impact on public confidence.

"I hope that the changes I am making today will ensure that the public can continue to have confidence in this important unit."