Police officer sacked after incriminating WhatsApp messages found

Merseyside Police HQ
Merseyside Police HQ -Credit:Andrew Teebay/Liverpool Echo

A Merseyside firearms officer was sacked from the force after sending homophobic and racist text messages.

PC Daniel Johnson, 43, from Heswall, was dismissed without notice from Merseyside Police following a five day misconduct hearing at Merseyside Police HQ on Cazneau Street in Everton, which concluded on Friday, May 17. In total, Johnson was found to have committed four acts of gross misconduct with regards to two thefts and sending homophobic and racist texts.

He was also found guilty of two acts of misconduct with regards to drinking while on-call and breaking Covid-19 restrictions. PC Johnson was found to have stolen a sawblade from Speke station on August 5 2021, when he was caught on CCTV taking the item from an equipment storage room.

READ MORE: 'Man slashed' and woman 'seriously injured' as two groups brawl outside city bar

READ MORE: People flock to pub's huge beer garden as soon as they leave work

He had claimed he intended to return the saw, but had been too busy to do so before a period of paternity leave which began on August 25. But panel chairman David Tyme said: "PC Johnson took the blade from the rap store and failed to take any steps in establishing if he was permitted to take it, or make any record of confirmation that he was in possession of the blade.

"Furthermore, between August 5 and September 14, when the blades were seized, he had ample opportunity to return it if he wished to do so."

Incriminating WhatsApp messages found on PC Johnson's phone revealed he had also stolen a rip saw from Smithdown Lane sometime during 2017. He claimed the saw had been given to him by a now-retired constable, who told him he could keep it - but when investigating officers tracked down the retiree, he told them no such exchange had occurred.

Further WhatsApp messages were found to be homophobic and racist in nature. On March 12 2019, he text a fellow officer describing two senior colleagues as "two p***s together", and on May 2 he sent the same officer a "plainly racist" picture of a Muslim woman on a fairground ride, along with the words "detonator bombs away".

On April 30 2021, he had lunch with his wife and drank wine at the The Jug and Bottle pub during an 8am-4pm on-call shift. According to CCTV footage, he left the pub at around 1.20pm and returned with his friends at 3.25pm, where he drank a pint of beer.

He said he believed he was still "fit for duty" at the time, however, Mr Tyme said his possible level of intoxication did not matter as drinking any amount of alcohol on the clock was enough to prove misconduct.

PC Johnson also admitted breaching Covid-19 lockdown rules by throwing a 40th birthday party at his home in June 2020.

Following the hearing, Merseyside Police barrister Barney Branston called on the panel to hand down "the appropriate outcome based on extremely serious findings of theft, racism and homophobia". He said: "We have accepted that this is an exceptionally competent officer who is highly thought of by his peers. But due to the nature of these proceedings, the weight of personal mitigation will necessarily be limited as serious misconduct has been proven."

He added: "It must be obvious that misconduct cannot carry an easier sanction just because the practitioner is particularly skilled. We acknowledge this is a competent officer, however this is not an exceptional case. These are so serious that nothing short of dismissal will do justice to the case."

Ben Summers, representing Johnson, called on the panel to take his 21 years of service, commendations and character reference into account. He said: "It has to be in knowledge of the full facts and that includes his long service. Which undermines public confidence more? That an officer is forgiven in the interest of protecting the public from the most violent and dangerous offenders, or that all of that is thrown away for effectively four pieces of stupidity - a saw blade, a rip saw and two messages on WhatsApp?"

PC Johnson was dismissed without notice on Friday (17 May) and will be been added to the College of Policing Barred List for a minimum of five years.

Detective Chief Superintendent Cheryl Rhodes, head of Merseyside Police’s Professional Standards, said: “We always demand the highest possible standards from all our officers and staff, both on and off duty.

"We work proactively to root out and investigate those officers and staff whose behaviour falls short of the very high standards the public of Merseyside expect and deserve. Daniel Johnson fell far short of that, and we welcome the fact that his behaviour was identified and that he has now been removed from our ranks.

“We want to hear about officers and staff who do not uphold the values we demand and have introduced Call It Out, an internal campaign to encourage colleagues to call out behaviour that does not align with our principles. It empowers officers and staff to challenge behaviour in the workplace, as well as providing an avenue to confidentially report behaviour into our Professional Standards Department.

“Its aim is to stop such behaviour, by rooting out those prepared to cross the line and to demonstrate very clearly what is not acceptable in Merseyside Police. If any officer is found to be behaving in a way that does not meet our high standards we will take robust action to ensure the public across Merseyside can continue to have the utmost confidence in the force.

“I hope the thorough investigation into the actions of Daniel Johnson, and the subsequent sanction, demonstrates that very clearly.”

Det Chief Supt Cheryl Rhodes added: “During the Covid 19 pandemic, the whole country pulled together to keep the virus at bay. Our officers were on the frontline during those challenging months, coming into work every day when many worked from home to ensure the NHS and our most vulnerable were safe and protected.

“In holding a party at that time, Daniel Johnson’s behaviour completely flew in the face of that effort. That he worked for a police service tasked with enforcing the very legislation he breached makes his actions all the more disappointing.

“In drinking alcohol while on duty when he could have been called into action as a Firearms Officer, he compromised his ability to perform his role, and the theft of saw blades and rip saws deprived the Force of equipment that might have been used for a policing purpose.

“And by sending homophobic messages about two senior officers to a colleague, and sending a racist image to a colleague, he displayed behaviour completely at odds with our behaviours and standards, breaching the equality and diversity policy and showing a distinct lack of respect for colleagues. This undermined our considerable efforts to be an inclusive force that represents all of our diverse communities.

“We will continue to work closely with our FORE (Focus on Race and Ethnicity) network and LBGT+ Network to discuss the issues this case has raised and ensure that our staff work with the highest ethics and integrity.”

Don't miss the biggest and breaking stories by signing up to the Echo Daily newsletter here