Wayne Couzens’ Met Police colleagues found guilty over ‘grossly offensive’ WhatsApp messages

Posts were discovered when detectives seized Couzens’ phone following the murder of Sarah Everard

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Thursday 22 September 2022 10:46 BST
Officer leaves court after conviction for sharing offensive texts with Sarah Everard’s killer

Two Metropolitan Police officers have been convicted over racist, misogynist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic and ableist messages shared in a WhatsApp group containing Wayne Couzens.

Serving PC Jonathon Cobban, 35, and former officer Joel Borders, 45, had denied charges of sending grossly offensive messages.

A court heard heard that chats, from 2019, included posts discussing rape, domestic abuse and violence against women.

Cobban was found guilty of three counts of sending grossly offensive messages and acquitted of two, while Borders was convicted on all five charges he faced. They will be sentenced on 2 November.

Their co-defendant, PC William Neville, 34, was acquitted of two counts of the same charge.

Their defence lawyers had attempted to have the case dismissed in July, arguing that the messages did not meet the legal definition of “grossly offensive”, because they were sent in a private chat group where “no one was offended and they were not targeted at anyone”.

District Judge Sarah Turnock refused the application, saying the messages were capable of being grossly offensive within the meaning of the Communications Act 2003”.

Giving her verdicts at City of London Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday, she called their messages “sickening” and “disgusting”.

The Metropolitan Police said it would “progress internal misconduct proceedings without delay” for Cobban and PC Neville, because they could not start while the court case was ongoing.

Commander Jon Savell added: “The behaviour of these officers is despicable and I condemn them for sending such grossly offensive and repulsive messages. It is staggering that they regard this language as defensible.

“We expect our officers to have the highest standards of conduct. We are determined to rid this organisation of those who corrupt its integrity, and are increasing our efforts to do that more quickly. As a result, we may well see more cases emerging, as we leave no stone unturned in tackling offensive behaviour.

“I am deeply sorry these officers have let down the public, and their Met colleagues.”

The force’s new commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, has committed to restoring public trust and has announced plans to recruit more than 100 officers to its Directorate of Professional Standards.

Rosemary Ainslie, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said it would prosecute similar offences against police officers “robustly” when in the public interest.

“It is incomprehensible that serving police officers could think it was right to share these kinds of grossly offensive messages with others,” she added.

“They were not just shocking or disturbing banter, but they amounted to criminal offences.”

Former Metropolitan Police officer Joel Borders arriving at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, London, where he is charged with sharing “grossly offensive” WhatsApp messages with Sarah Everard murderer Wayne Couzens. Picture date: Thursday July 28, 2022.
Former Metropolitan Police officer Joel Borders arriving at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, London, where he is charged with sharing “grossly offensive” WhatsApp messages with Sarah Everard murderer Wayne Couzens. Picture date: Thursday July 28, 2022. (PA Wire)

During the men’s trial in July, Westminster Magistrates’ Court was told the messages were discovered in a WhatsApp group called “Bottle and Stoppers/Atkin’s Puppets” after Couzens was arrested for kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard in March 2021.

Prosecutor Edward Brown QC said the chat contained “a close-knit group of” officers including the three defendants, who had transferred from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary to the Metropolitan Police in February 2019.

“There is no evidence that any of the defendants, or the other members of the group, ‘called out’ or challenged any of their co-defendants on receipt of what are said by the prosecution to be the offensive messages,” he added.

While giving evidence in their defence, the men argued that the messages had been “banter”, jokes or misinterpreted by the prosecution.

In one exchange, Borders wrote of a female police officer: “She will use me as an example. Lead me on then get me locked up when I rape and beat her! Sneaky b****.”

Other posts saw chat participants joking about police performing sex acts on domestic violence victims, with Cobban writing in June 2019: “That's alright, DV victims love it... that's why they are repeat victims more often than not.”

Borders replied: “No, they just don’t listen!” Responding to a colleague’s account of responding to domestic violence incidents days later, Borders wrote: “Bet they all had one thing in common. Women that don’t listen.”

During the same exchange, Cobban called a racially diverse areas of London as a “s***hole”, described a member of the public who asked him for directions as “yellow” and remarked: “Not even the shops are in English.”

Borders wrote that he “felt like a spot on a domino” in the London district of Feltham and described Hounslow as “twinned with Baghdad”.

In August 2019, Cobban described an incident where he had to look after a person who needed hospital treatment after self-harming as an “attention seeking, self-harming f*g”.

In April 2019, Borders wrote that he could not wait to “shoot some c*** in the face” with a police firearm and Cobban replied: “Me too. I want to taser a cat and a dog to see which reacts better … same with children. Zap zap you little f***ers.”

Borders replied “and a couple of downys?”, in what prosecutors said was a reference to people with Down’s Syndrome.

While in the CNC, Cobban had worked in its firearms training unit and volunteered to become its “race and diversity custodian” for the unit and was registered with a network that provided support to police with protected characteristics.

Borders, who became a close protection officer after leaving the Metropolitan Police, said the case had “got out of hand”.

Addressing a female prosecutor, he added: “It’s absolutely ridiculous. You’re trying to criminalise innocent police officers … people get offended by everything.”

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) started investigating the men in April 2021 after the messages were referred by the Metropolitan Police, and found that the three defendants and a further three officers in the group had cases to answer for gross misconduct.

All six officers are accused of breaching police standards of professional behaviour variously between March 2019 and October 2019 by allegedly sending discriminatory or inappropriate messages, and failing to challenge or report inappropriate comments made by others.

IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem said: “The messages sent by these police officers were inexcusable and particularly disturbing given the profession they represent. Social media cannot be a hiding place for these types of views.

“Behaviour of this nature seriously undermines public confidence in policing. It is part of our role, and for police forces themselves, to ensure that it is rooted out and those responsible are held to account for their actions.”

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