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A judge branded comments made by a serving Metropolitan Police officer and a former constable “sickening” and “abhorrent” as they were convicted of sending grossly offensive messages in a WhatsApp group with Sarah Everard’s killer.
Met constables William Neville, 34, and Jonathon Cobban, 35, and former Pc Joel Borders, 45, were members of the chat called “Bottle and Stoppers” along with Wayne Couzens.
Neville was cleared of sending grossly offensive messages but his two colleagues were convicted on Wednesday following a trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in July.
Borders and Cobban swapped what they claimed was “banter” about tasering children and people with disabilities in comments made in the group in April 2019.
Delivering a verdict at City of London Magistrates’ Court, Judge Sarah Turnock said it was “abhorrent” that Borders “demonstrates an ableist attitude by then adding a disabled person to Cobban’s disgusting list of victims”.
She added: “I can honestly say that I consider it to be sickening to think of a police officer joking about using firearms in this way.”
On April 25 2019, Borders discussed raping a female colleague, using language that the judge said was “misogynistic and aggressive in its nature and is a clear example of victim blaming”.
Giving evidence, each defendant dismissed many of the comments they had made as examples of “dark humour”.
But the judge rejected this account, finding that at the very least the extensive police training they had each received meant they would have been aware of the public reaction to their messages.
Contrary to the defendants’ evidence that messages they had sent about West London borough Hounslow had been a “celebration” of the “vibrancy and diversity” of the area, the judge said these showed a “deeply racist attitude”.
Judge Turnock said: “The fact that they chose to share this ‘banter’ within such a small circle of trust on an encrypted platform together with the fact that, based on the character evidence, the messages appear to be starkly at odds with the sense of humour and professionalism which they present to the rest of the world, only serves to strengthen the conclusion that each of the defendants knew that the disclosure of these comments would have caused gross offence to members of the public and the persons to whom these messages relate.
“The WhatsApp group in which these messages were posted appears therefore to have been viewed by the defendants as a safe space, involving a small number of like-minded individuals, in which they had free reign to share controversial and deeply offensive messages without fear of retribution.”
Independent Office for Police Conduct 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.
“It is also another illustration of why we wrote to police chiefs last year highlighting our concerns about inappropriate use of social media and asking them to remind forces and officers of their obligations under the police Code of Ethics and Standards of Professional Behaviour.”
Neville smiled as he was cleared of both counts against him and allowed to leave the dock.
Borders kept his eyes fixed on the ceiling as the judgment was delivered and Cobban remained expressionless.
The Metropolitan Police apologised in a statement condemning the officers and warned that similar cases may emerge.
Commander Jon Savell, the force's head of Professionalism Standards and Recognition, said: "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 pair will be sentenced at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 2 November.
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