UK police officers admit sending racist messages about Meghan, royals

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Harry and Meghan, attend the 2022 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award Gala in New York City

LONDON (Reuters) - Five former London police officers on Thursday admitted sending grossly offensive racist messages to each other on WhatsApp, which included references to Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and other members of the royal family.

The five officers, who have all retired, were charged after an investigation by BBC's Newsnight programme which discovered the men had sent the messages between August 2018 and September 2022, a period when they had all left the police.

Three of the messages featured racist comments about Meghan, the wife of King Charles' younger son, Prince Harry. Meghan's mother is Black and her father is white.

One of these messages also included a picture of the late Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Philip, while others referenced Charles' eldest son and heir Prince William and his wife Kate, along with Rishi Sunak, Britain's first prime minister of colour.

The former officers, aged in their 60s, pleaded guilty to sending offensive messages at a hearing at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court.

"The racist and discriminatory content of these messages is absolutely appalling and, given the defendants once served as police officers, we recognise that this case may further damage confidence in policing," said Commander James Harman, who leads the Metropolitan Police's Anti-Corruption and Abuse Command.

The London force has been plagued by scandal in recent years and an independent review in March concluded it was institutionally racist, misogynistic and homophobic. Its new chief, Mark Rowley, has promised to rid it of unsuitable individuals among its more than 43,000 officers and staff.

The five men had all worked in various departments at the police but had all served in the Diplomatic Protection Group, which in the last year has seen one former member convicted of murder and rape, and another jailed for carrying out 24 rapes and other sex offences over two decades.

(Reporting by Michael Holden and Sam Tobin; Editing by Nick Macfie)