Ex-police constable James Watts jailed over string of racist WhatsApp messages

An ex-police officer who posted racist WhatsApp memes mocking the death of George Floyd has been jailed for 20 weeks.

James Watts was serving with West Mercia Police in 2020 when he shared the "grossly offensive" material in a group chat which included former colleagues at a Warwickshire prison.

The 31-year-old was charged with 10 counts of sending grossly offensive messages and sentenced today at Birmingham Magistrates Court.

One of the offensive messages included mocking Mr Floyd - who died on May 25, 2020, after police officer Derek Chauvin pinned him to the ground with a knee on his neck, as Mr Floyd repeatedly said he couldn't breathe.

It comes after a police inquiry into 10 memes posted in May and June 2020, including one featuring a white dog wearing Ku Klux Klan clothing.

Other memes posted by Watts, who accepted in police interviews that the messages were racist in nature, featured images of a kneeling mat and a monkey.

James Watts served with West Mercia Police Credit: PA

Another message, which was found after a Twitter user claimed a serving policeman had posted racist memes, mocked a line in the movie Jaws.

Watts, of Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, pleaded guilty on 13 May to 10 counts of sending a grossly offensive or menacing message by a public communication network.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) announced in April this year that charges had been brought against Watts under the Communications Act 2003.

'This behaviour, particularly from a police officer, is unacceptable,' watchdog says

Today, the IOPC's regional director, Derrick Campbell said: "We note the prison sentence imposed on former West Mercia Police officer James Watts today after he earlier pleaded guilty to sharing grossly offensive, racist material via WhatsApp.

"The sharing of such images by a serving officer, some of which mocked the death of George Floyd, is bound to have caused significant reputational damage to policing."

He adds: "The content of these messages will disturb many people both within and outside the police service."

"Today’s outcome must act as a stark reminder that this behaviour, particularly from a police officer, is unacceptable."

"It is important officers understand it is irrelevant whether such activity takes place on or off duty, or in a private or public social media network – the conduct is likely to face serious disciplinary or criminal consequences."

“Our investigation began in June 2020 following a referral from West Mercia Police after intelligence was received by the force.

"At its conclusion in April 2021, we sent our investigation report to the Crown Prosecution Service which authorised the charge under S.127 of the Communications Act 2003."

ITV News Central has contacted West Mercia Police for a comment.