Metropolitan Police officers shared ‘racist, misogynist and Islamophobic’ messages in WhatsApp group with Wayne Couzens

Messages were not challenged by members of ‘close-knit’ group, court hears

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Thursday 28 July 2022 19:26 BST
Court artist sketch of serving Metropolitan police officers William Neville and Jonathon Cobban, along with former police officer Joel Borders, appearing in the dock at Westminster Magistrates’ Court
Court artist sketch of serving Metropolitan police officers William Neville and Jonathon Cobban, along with former police officer Joel Borders, appearing in the dock at Westminster Magistrates’ Court (PA)

Three Metropolitan Police officers posted racist, misogynist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic and ableist messages in a WhatsApp group with Wayne Couzens, a court has heard.

Jonathon Cobban, 35, William Neville, 34, and Joel Borders, 45, have denied charges of sending grossly offensive messages.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that chats, from 2019, included posts discussing rape, domestic abuse and violence against women.

They 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.

Prosecuting, Edward Brown QC said the group contained “a close-knit group of” seven police officers who had transferred from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) to the Metropolitan Police.

“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.

“Each defendant actively participated and chose to remain in the group.”

Defence barrister Nicholas Yeo argued 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”.

He told the court: “The fact that none of those individuals [in the WhatsApp group] took those messages seriously or made a complaint about them is a highly relevant factor, and we say determinative.”

PC Cobban and PC Neville talked about “struggle snuggles” after PC Neville described pinning a 15-year-old girl to the floor during an incident.

Mr Brown said the post implied that PC Neville “enjoyed the need, while on duty, physically to go to restrain a very vulnerable and disturbed 15-year-old girl because he got pleasure from, or at least drew upon his experience of a ‘struggle snuggle’”.

He argued that the exchange suggested that lawful restraint could be used “as an excuse or cover for non-consensual physical or sexual contact with a detained person”.

But Mr Yeo contested the meaning of “struggle snuggle” and told the court, saying it was not sexual in context and was instead a “term used in officer training in relation to a bear hug [restraint] technique”.

In a different exchange Mr Borders, who has since left the police, wrote of a named 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****.”

Mr Brown called the message “threatening and aggressive” and suggested that rape victims encouraged sexual contact and deserve the violence inflicted upon them.

Wayne Couzens sentenced to full-life term for kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard

The prosecutor said it was derogatory to victims of rape and sexual violence, to female police officers and women generally.

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

Mr Brown said police officers “should represent a safe haven for victims of domestic abuse”, rather than making “dismissive and derogatory comments” that can undermine their willingness to report crimes.

At another point, PC Cobban and PC Neville appeared to joke about the prospect of leaving Muslims to die in a terrorist bombing, while PC Cobban described a racially diverse area of London as a “s***hole” and PC Neville said he “felt like a spot on a domino”.

In August 2019, PC 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”.

On a different occasion, Mr Borders wrote that he could not wait to “shoot some c***s in the face” with a police firearm, while PC Cobban expressed a desire to torture cats and dogs with a Taser, while Mr Borders suggested electroshocking people with Down’s Syndrome.

All three men were formerly officers in the CNC and transferred to the Metropolitan Police on the same date – 11 February 2019. Couzens had made the same transfer in September 2018.

The court heard that the defendants had undergone training involving segments on responding to sexual violence, domestic abuse and hate crime, unconscious bias and addressing equality and diversity inside policing.

The defendants transferred from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary to the Metropolitan Police in February 2019
The defendants transferred from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary to the Metropolitan Police in February 2019 (PA Wire)

While in the CNC, PC 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.

The defendants had been warned that they must not post anything online that could be perceived as “discriminatory, abusive, oppressive, harassing, bullying, victimising, offensive or otherwise incompatible with policing principles”.

Mr Brown said the messages must be “seen in the context of the need to uphold public confidence in the police”.

He told the court: “Right thinking members of the public would be grossly offended not just by the comments themselves but to know that it was serving police officers who discussed, among other serving police officers, their colleagues and the citizens they are supposed to serve in the terms used in these messages, often in an enthusiastic and encouraging manner with no dissent.”

All three defendants refused to answer questions verbally when interviewed and provided pre-prepared written statements.

PC Cobban said he had made “a joke in very bad taste” about domestic abuse victims and would no longer joke about victims of crime, and claimed his comments on ethnically-diverse areas were “in relation to the vibrancy of the area”. He denied being homophobic.

PC Neville said his remarks on Muslims were a “poorly judged joke”, adding: “I do not believe that every Muslim is a terrorist … I do not mean these comments literally.”

Mr Borders said his post about raping a female police officer was “very dark humour which I appreciate may offend some people”, but insisted he was “always professional on the job and when dealing with victims”.

PC Cobban and Mr Borders are charged with five counts of sending grossly offensive messages, while PC Neville is accused of two counts of the same offence.

PC Cobban and PC Neville remain in the Metropolitan Police, while Mr Borders has since left the police. The trial continues.

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