Five out of six Hampshire police officers in ‘toxic’ unit sacked

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FIVE out of six police officers in a ‘toxic’ specialist unit of Hampshire Constabulary have been sacked by a disciplinary panel for their ‘shameful’ behaviour after they were bugged using bigoted and inappropriate language.

Det Sgt Oliver Lage, Det Sgt Gregory Willcox and PC James Oldfield have been dismissed while retired detective inspector Tim Ireson and former PC Craig Bannerman would have been sacked if they had not already left the force, and trainee Det Con Andrew Ferguson has been given a final written warning.

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The officers were found to have committed gross misconduct after they were recorded making ‘abhorrent’ comments while working at Hampshire police's Serious Organised Crime Unit (Socu) office in Basingstoke, Hampshire.

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Five out of six officers have been sackedFive out of six officers have been sacked
Five out of six officers have been sacked

The officers were recorded by a bugging device making racist, sexist, homophobic and other inappropriate comments – and were all found to have breached professional standards at a disciplinary hearing.

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.

Luke Ponte, representing Mr Ireson, said earlier this week his client had not used discriminatory language but had used offensive language such as swear words which ‘risked encouraging others to do the same’.

He added: ‘He was not himself a racist or sexist or phobic or a bully, he is not someone who would target the weak or the vulnerable or the different, he is not someone or was not an officer insensitive to the issues of diversity.

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‘A culture developed, and to an extent, he allowed to develop in the Socu office, and he accepts that was caused in part by his failings of management.

‘His intention was to permit a more relaxed atmosphere which he felt would sustain a cohesive and productive team.

‘He now sees too much allowance was given and boundaries became blurred.’

Edmund Gritt, representing Det Sgt Willcox, previously said that his client had given 27 years’ service to Hampshire police and had ‘eliminated some of the most serious criminals in the county’.

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He said that the 52-year-old wished to apologise to the people of Hampshire and added: ‘His failings in his own conduct gave rise to the environment, the only approach he should have adopted was a zero tolerance approach and that includes zero tolerance towards himself as well.’

Guy Ladenburg, representing Det Sgt Lage, said there was ‘no malicious intent’ behind ‘teasing’ comments made towards the only black officer in the unit and he had shown remorse for the ‘reputational damage’ he has caused to the force.

He added: ‘He is obviously a first class police officer who has let himself down in an uncharacteristic lapse on a small handful of occasions.’

Jason Beer QC, presenting the case against the officers, said that following an anonymous complaint, covert recording devices were placed in the unit's offices between March 9 and April 2, 2018.

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Mr Beer had told the hearing: ‘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.’

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Amongst the conversations recorded were comments that the only black officer in the unit had arrived from Africa in a crate.

And ‘explicit and highly offensive’ fake pornographic images of the royal family were also posted on a work WhatsApp group.

Zoe Wakefield, chair of Hampshire Police Federation, said: ‘We note the outcome of today’s hearing involving six Hampshire police officers. The outdated and offensive views we heard during the hearing have no place in society and they certainly have no place in policing.

‘We are supporting all colleagues who were affected by this inappropriate and prejudiced behaviour and commend those who highlighted it.’

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Zoe added: ‘We should not let the awful language and terminology used by a very small number of police officers tarnish the hard work and dedication of thousands of police officers and staff in Hampshire who are out there every day bravely striving to keep people safe and catch criminals.

‘They will also feel hugely let down by their colleagues and will understand that the public expect better.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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