Eight serving and former Metropolitan Police officers have been found guilty of “gross misconduct” over a “discriminatory and offensive” WhatsApp group, which contained messages mocking Katie Price’s disabled son.
The officers, seven men and one woman, were found to have sent sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and disablist comments in a WhatsApp group called “Secret Squirrel S***” between May 2016 and June 2018.
In addition to posting messages about Price’s son Harvey, who is autistic and lives with Prader–Willi syndrome, former sergeant Luke Thomas is alleged to have suggested to the group that he name his dog “Auschwitz”, “Adolf” or “Fred” or “Ian” after “my two favourite child sex killers”.
In another conversation, one of the officers referred to a male police officer who “once got away with rape” and said he was “a legend in my eyes”, the panel heard.
After a five-day misconduct hearing, legal chair Christopher McKay found each former and serving officer to have committed gross misconduct over their own messages, as well as by “failing to challenge or report” the conduct of others in the group.
He told the hearing at Palestra House in Southwark that their behaviour amounted to a “breach of the standards of professional behaviour that is so serious as to justify dismissal”.
The hearing concerned Mr Thomas, former acting sergeant Luke Allen, former PC Kelsey Buchan, former PC Carlo Francisco, former PC Lee South, former PC Darren Jenner, PC Glynn Rees, and Officer B, who has been granted anonymity.
Sharing a letter she received from Scotland Yard alerting her to the WhatsApp group and misconduct hearing, Price said in February: “It’s disgusting that police officers from here have felt the need to laugh and use disgusting content on Harvey by creating a what’s app group (sic).”
“These are the people who are supposed to be protecting us, people we are supposed to trust. It’s pure betrayal. I was in shock at first, then I felt sick, heartbroken and angry,” she later told the Sunday Mirror.
Their messages also included derogatory comments about a junior female officer, referred to as Officer A.
The panel heard that the most senior-ranking officer in the group, Mr Thomas – who “appears to have been one of the most active participants” – mocked Mr Price’s weight in some messages and called Office A “f****** ugly”, referring to her as “it”, as well as joking about offensive names for his dog.
“Given his supervisory role as a sergeant, he failed to adequately supervise or guide his team in respect of conduct. His failings are extremely serious,” said Mr McKay.
“He could and should have closed the WhatsApp group as soon as the highly inappropriate nature of the messages became apparent. Instead, he became one of its main contributors. This was undoubtedly gross misconduct.”
Mr McKay said Officer B also posted an edited photograph of Mr Price in the chat with the caption: “You’ve heard of elf on a shelf, now get ready for Harvey Price eating Uncle Ben’s basmati rice after trying to read three blind mice on spice.”
“The rhyme has a racist tone and refers to his disability – he is partially sighted, said Mr McKay. “There is no need to refer to Uncle Ben’s rice unless pointing to the racial origins of Uncle Ben and Harvey Price being similar. The words 'trying to read' also highlight his disability.”
The post was a “significant breach of the standard of equality and diversity”, “inappropriate and offensive” to Mr Price, and constitutes “gross misconduct”, he said.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct previously expressed concern that police officers’ “unacceptable” use of Whatsapp was “deeply offensive and undermining to public confidence and trust”, as the watchdog told The Independent that the app was “replicating the canteen culture in the online space”.
A host of officers have since faced investigations over their behaviour on WhatsApp, notably those in a racist, sexist and ableist chat with Sarah Everard’s killer Wayne Couzens, and the two officers jailed for sharing images of the bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman.
Additional reporting by PA