Five serving police officers- including one from Norfolk Police- are being investigated for gross misconduct over a WhatsApp group they allegedly shared with murderer and rapist Wayne Couzens, who's been jailed for killing Sarah Everard.
Messages in the WhatsApp group, which also contained a former officer, were said to be "discriminatory and/or inappropriate nature", and reports say they featured misogynistic content.
In a statement the IOPC said "The mobile phone messages were discovered during the police investigation into Ms Everard’s murder. Three of the serving officers are with the MPS, one from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) and one from Norfolk Constabulary. The former officer was previously with the MPS. They are being investigated for gross misconduct for allegedly sending messages of a discriminatory and/or inappropriate nature, and for allegedly failing to challenge the messages sent by the others."
A Norfolk Constabulary spokeswoman said: 'We’re fully co-operating with the Independent Office of Police Conduct (IOPC) in the course of their investigation. We can confirm the officer has been suspended from duty while the allegations are under investigation.'
What is known about the WhatsApp group allegedly involving Couzens?
The Independent Office for Police Conduct, which is carrying out the investigations, said the offending messages were sent in the WhatsApp group between March and October 2019. Three of the officers being investigated work for the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) - where Couzens was also employed - while one was from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) and the other from Norfolk Constabulary.
Asked about the probe, police minister Kit Malthouse said: "Those allegations are under investigation so it wouldn't be right to comment on them.
"But what I hope is the police force has systems in place to identify those individuals and give other officers confidence in reporting them."
What action are the police taking after Couzens' sentencing?
The force is also investigating whether Couzens committed more crimes before he kidnapped, raped and murdered Ms Everard as the force vowed to make the streets safer for women and girls.
A senior officer admitted a vetting check on the former police officer was not done “correctly” when he joined the Met in 2018, while he was linked to an indecent exposure incident at a McDonald’s in Swanley, Kent, just 72 hours before Ms Everard was abducted in March.
The Met announced it will no longer deploy plain clothes officers on their own after the sentencing hearing was told Couzens had used lockdown rules to falsely arrest Ms Everard during the abduction.
The force has also promised to publish a new strategy for tackling violence against women and girls, outlining how it will prioritise action against sexual and violent predatory offenders.
Couzens, 48, was handed a whole life sentence at the Old Bailey on Thursday by Lord Justice Fulford, who said his “warped, selfish and brutal” offences had eroded confidence in the police.
Ms Everard’s parents, Jeremy and Susan, her brother James and sister Katie said they were pleased with the sentence in a statement after the hearing.
They said: “Wayne Couzens held a position of trust as a police officer and we are outraged and sickened that he abused this trust in order to lure Sarah to her death. The world is a safer place with him imprisoned.”