Questions around police Whatsapp groups as Nottingham Attacks victim's mum calls for answers

The mother of Barnaby Webber, Emma Webber, reads a statement outside Nottingham Crown Court after the sentencing hearing of Valdo Calocane.
The mother of Barnaby Webber, Emma Webber, reads a statement outside Nottingham Crown Court after the sentencing hearing of killer Valdo Calocane back on January 25 -Credit:Joseph Raynor/ Nottingham Post

There are calls for wider questions to be answered on police officers using Whatsapp groups after the mother of Nottingham Attacks victim Barnaby Webber wrote an open letter to the police who "dehumanised" her son. Emma Webber lost her son last year after the 19-year-old student was killed by Valdo Calocane along with friend Grace O'Malley Kumar and caretaker Ian Coates.

Graphic details of the victims' injuries were shared in a police group chat, and a force investigation has found that 11 members of staff at Nottinghamshire Police viewed material about the case without a legitimate reason to do so. Three of these individuals have faced disciplinary action and the other eight were instead handed “performance interventions”.

Speaking to Sky News, Mrs Webber has previously said: "Well the police have belatedly apologised but they haven't given us any of the further information that we've asked for, and what I've asked to do and the main reason I have written the open letter is because I've been denied the opportunity to give that message privately and personally to those officers involved in that WhatsApp group.

"I think there's a much bigger story here with regards to whether officers are allowed to have Whatsapp groups in the police force. We've been told by Kate Meynell Chief Constable that they shouldn't."

She continued: "We've also been told that police officers have a duty if they see or witness anything of any form of misconduct, they should report it. They have not told us any of the details about that.

"Whilst we have had a general apology for all of the misconduct that happened, not just the Whatsapp group, we haven't had anything direct." Nottinghamshire Police's Professional Standards Directorate took immediate action after a message was posted on a Whatsapp group, which included words described as crude and distasteful.

This was followed by a gross misconduct hearing in January 2024, which was chaired by an independent legally qualified chair in public at Nottinghamshire Police headquarters.

The officer was given a final written warning, and after a review by PSD, one other officer was subject to management intervention. No other officers were found to have committed misconduct.

A spokesperson for the force stated: "All officers have been reminded of the appropriate use of WhatsApp as a result of this misconduct hearing.” The Independent Office for Police Conduct has previously carried out a review into the use of WhatsApp and other instant messaging services in the police service.

In the executive summary, it states: "Over a billion people worldwide use WhatsApp and IOPC referrals containing WhatsApp related issues are increasing. Some relate to operational use and subsequent dissemination to non-police staff, others to the exchange of inappropriate work-related information with non-police friends."

It was found in the review, in which 29 out of 43 police forces in England and Wales provided information, that 17 police forces use WhatsApp in some way. It was also found that four forces can or intend to monitor WhatsApp when used for police work, but whilst some forces deal with WhatsApp in their social media policies, most forces do not have express reference to it.

Later in the report, it states: "Should you believe any behaviour in a group is an inappropriate use of the group, this must be reported." The review also refers to five forces stating WhatsApp allows for a quick way to communicate, and another force states it helps lone workers feel less isolated.

Regarding the WhatsApp messages about the victims, Mrs Webber explained it left her feeling "physically sick." She explained she was "so traumatised and so anguished by it, and I think probably the main word would be just hurt, and terribly, terribly sad that my beautiful son, who I've lost in the most awful circumstances, and his wonderful friend could be described in such a barbaric manner.

"It's so dehumanised. It dehumanised Barnaby and that's why partly again I've written the letter because he's a human being who's lost his life and I've lost a son, so it's got to be addressed because we are not an isolated incident."