Officers face sack after being recorded making 'abhorrent' comments in 'toxic' police unit

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Six police officers could be sacked after they were recorded making "abhorrent" and inappropriate comments in a "toxic" specialist police unit.

The six members of Hampshire's Serious Organised Crime Unit office in Basingstoke were all found to have breached professional standards.

They are retired Detective Inspector Tim Ireson, Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox, former PC Craig Bannerman, Trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson and PC James Oldfield.

Mr Ireson and Det Sgt Willcox were also accused at the tribunal of failing to fulfil their supervisory roles to stop or report the inappropriate behaviour.

The tribunal will consider their punishments on 4 January.

Jason Beer QC, who presented the case against the officers, said that covert recording devices were set up in the office between 9 March and 2 April 2018, after an anonymous complaint.

Mr Beer said: "This was a specialist police unit that enjoyed relative isolation from the rest of the force due to the sensitive and sometimes covert nature of the work that it undertook.

"That isolation and a lack of leadership by Mr Ireson and Det Sgt Willcox appears to have led to a toxic, abhorrent culture developing in the unit amongst some officers.

"[This] is inconsistent with the values and standards of the police service in the 21st century and inconsistent with continued service in the police service."

He added: "It was a unit that was plain nasty that displayed attitudes towards groups and communities that police officers are called upon to protect."

The comments recorded included claims that the unit's only black officer had arrived from Africa in a crate. Also, "explicit and highly offensive" fake pornographic images of the royal family were posted on a work WhatsApp group.

A Hampshire police spokesman said: "The panel has spent a number of weeks listening to the evidence, and the submissions from the officers to explain their behaviours, before reaching their findings, which have been delivered cumulatively. We will receive a full breakdown of the decisions in due course.

"The conduct related to discriminatory comments captured during a covert recording of the SOCU North office in 2018. Such comments were neither challenged nor reported."

They added: "We understand there is significant interest in this case and our response to this outcome, however as this remains a live legal process, we will respond fully at the conclusion of the proceedings."