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Nottingham victims’ families condemn police officers who shared graphic details of killings on Whatsapp

Nottinghamshire Police’s Professional Standards Directorate found officers sent ‘crude and distasteful’ messages about injuries suffered by victims

Holly Evans
Monday 19 February 2024 16:34 GMT
School caretaker Ian Coates, Barnaby Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar were all killed in a rampage in Nottingham
School caretaker Ian Coates, Barnaby Webber and Grace O’Malley-Kumar were all killed in a rampage in Nottingham (PA)

The families of three victims killed in a knife rampage in Nottingham are “appalled” after police officers shared graphic details of their injuries over Whatsapp.

Students Grace O’Malley-Kumar and Barnaby Webber, both aged 19, and 65-year-old caretaker Ian Coates were stabbed to death by paranoid schizophrenic Valdo Calocane last June.

It has now emerged that an officer posted a message detailing their injuries to a shift Whatsapp group, while another, PC Matthew Gell, forwarded the message to his wife and friend.

The families of Mr Coates, Barnaby Webber and Grace said the messages are ‘unforgivable’ (PA)

Representing all three families, Emma Webber, whose son was first attacked by Calocane, said: “What an abhorrent way to conduct an investigation. We cannot emphasise how painful this tragedy is for all our families, and to learn that there has been internal needless voyeurism of the vicious knife attacks on our loved ones is unforgivable.

“We were not, at any point, made aware of this data breach.”

A disciplinary hearing held last month heard PC Gell had also used police systems to access Calocane’s custody records, despite having no role whatsoever in the investigation. This amounted to a data protection breach and he was investigated by Nottinghamshire Police’s Professional Standards Directorate last June.

At a hearing in January, the panel agreed with his acknowledgment that he had made a “lapse of judgement” but confirmed his actions amounted to gross misconduct. He was issued a final written warning, while the other officer received “management intervention”.

Their relatives have called for a public inquiry as a series of reviews have been announced (PA)

The Daily Mail reported that the WhatsApp group, which included PC Gell, was sent details of the injuries inflicted upon the victims, as well as details on how the force was responding to the incident.

Deputy Chief Constable Steve Cooper said: “Nottinghamshire Police’s Professional Standards Directorate (PSD) found one message posted on a Whatsapp group and took action immediately.

“Some of the words were crude and distasteful. One officer faced a gross misconduct hearing chaired by an independent legally qualified chair in January 2024.

“It was held in public at Nottinghamshire Police headquarters with both the media and members of the public in attendance. He was handed a final written warning by the independent legally qualified chair.

“After a thorough review by PSD, one other officer was subject to management intervention. No other officers were found to have committed misconduct,

Valdo Calocane attacked Mr Webber and Miss O’Malley-Kumar as they walked home from a night out celebrating the end of their exams (Nottinghamshire Police)

“It is vitally important that the public are made aware of any action by an officer who falls below the extremely high standards we set and that is why these misconduct hearings are held in public.

“All officers have been reminded of the appropriate use of Whatsapp as a result of this misconduct hearing.”

Nottinghamshire Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry said she had already instigated an independent review by the College of Policing into the handling of the Valdo Calocane case and has asked the families to contribute to the scope of the review.

“The families of those involved and the public expect Nottinghamshire Police officers to uphold the highest standards. Quite properly when these high standards are not upheld Nottinghamshire Police Professional Standards Directorate deal with matters swiftly and robustly, as I am reassured has happened in this case.”

A spokesperson for the Independent Office for Police Conduct said: “Our investigation follows complaints from the families of Barnaby Webber, Grace O’Malley-Kumar, and Ian Coates about Nottinghamshire Police’s handling of the murder investigation.

“Concerns were expressed about the force’s communication with them over matters including an investigation into officers viewing details of the 13 June (2023) incident on police systems without any policing purpose.

Calocane was sentenced at Nottingham Crown Court to a hospital order (Nottinghamshire Police/PA) (PA Media)

“We will be speaking with the families soon about their allegations before we finalise the terms of reference for our enquiries.

“In July last year Nottinghamshire Police submitted a referral to us alleging that PC Gell had accessed information about the incident on a police system without authority and shared generic information with third parties.

“We were satisfied from the information we received that the force was taking the matter seriously and as their enquiries were at an advanced stage we decided that it was appropriate for them to continue with a local investigation. As that has now concluded and a hearing has taken place we are unable to investigate the specific allegations against PC Gell.”

The force has voluntarily referred itself to the independent watchdog after it emerged that a warrant was out for Calocane’s arrest after he assaulted a police officer in 2021 and failed to attend his court hearing.

The families of the victims have called for a public inquiry, with a series of reviews launched into the NHS, Crown Prosecution Service and two police forces’ handling of the case.

Calocane, 32, was handed an indefinite hospital order in January after pleading guilty to three counts of manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility. He also admitted three counts of attempted murder, after hospitalising three pedestrians in Nottingham town centre by hitting them with a stolen van.

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