Members of a police unit, in a work WhatsApp group, posted "explicit and highly offensive" fake pornographic images of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton, according to the DailyMail, citing a Monday disciplinary hearing.
Charges have been brought against six officers from Hampshire Police’s Serious Organised Crime Unit (SOCU) office in Basingstoke, accusing the law enforcement employees of breaking professional standards. The accused now face a three-week tribunal in Winchester.
The unit, which is "ableist, sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic" was described as using "abhorrent" language and explicit messages in the group chat.
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, are the employees facing the charges.
Jason Beer QC, presenting the case against the officers to the hearing, said that secret recording devices were placed in the member's administrative spaces between 9 March and 2 April 2018, following an anonymous complaint.
The unit's Whatsapp messages were also monitored, and, on 22 May 2018, trainee Ferguson posted a message in the SOCU WhatsApp group that included a false depiction of the Duke of Sussex involved in a sex act with the Duchess of Cambridge.
He described the photo of the two as "explicit and highly offensive" and said that the officer admitted the image was "completely inappropriate".
"With hindsight there is absolutely nothing funny about it, it falls well below the professional standards expected of me", Ferguson said.
The 'Lads Pad' Unit
Other covert recordings of the group revealed a message from PC James Oldfield saying that being homosexual would be "the most uncomfortable feeling ever" while speaking to colleagues after an image was posted in the chat showing a proctologist with a finger up the rectum of a dummy.
"[It] felt like a fist but I think it was just the one digit. Who the f**k [would] be gay? Most uncomfortable feeling ever", Oldfield suggested, referring to his recent anal examination.
While outlining the case against the Hampshire officers, Beer told the hearing that another comment by Oldfield, "Sleep [is] for gays", implied that gay men are weak in comparison to heterosexual men.
"The comment is homophobic and offensive", Beer noted.
Later that day, Oldfield sent a Photoshopped image of the wedding of Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan Markle, which had taken place three days prior, showing a black man exposing his genitals.
Oldfield included a caption in reference to the unit’s only black officer, Detective Constable Sol Koranteng – who is not involved in the case – stating "that’s where Sol was on Saturday".
Beer said that Oldfield "accepts that he posted this message. The image was meant as a joke. Any likeness of appearance was not based on hostility to either Koranteng or any race".
The QC observed that the 23 days of surveillance found enough racist, sexual, and culturally offensive material “to last a lifetime”.
“In that short period that strongly suggests of a culture that had become ingrained and normalised", he added.
The hearing also recorded that from 1 September 2017 to 5 June 2018, Wilcox sent 168 personal messages and received 262 on his work phone, many of which were about his role at Stockbridge Youth FC.
“The fact that 168 of them were related to football rather tends to indicate that the officer was spending too much time thinking about Stockbridge FC rather than focusing on his role as a supervisor", Beer said.
Ireson and Willcox are also under fire for allegedly failing to challenge those incidents in which Standards of Professional Behaviour have been breached
While reading statements from colleagues, Beer described the senior officers as being "part of the banter" as opposed to acting professionally and "stuck in a time from 25 years ago".
“Working in the SOCU(N) seems like a bit of a ‘lads pad…the F Word was literally like every other word…the office felt like a closed environment…[it] did intimidate me a bit. It was a closed environment with lots of swearing and banter", another said.
An additional accusation is also directed at Oldfield, who is said to have arrived at work on 1 April 2018 after a late evening/early morning of heavy alcohol consumption, rendering him unfit for duty.
Ireson allegedly spoke to Oldfield after he requested to not be sent to aid another office in a rape case in Southampton.
"I just don't really want to speak to anyone, I just don't want anyone to realise that I'm still pissed, (laughter), well not pissed, did I say that out loud?", Oldfield is said to have posted.
Ireson later said to a colleague that Oldfield would be "fighting fit and raring to go and be a useful member of society" by lunchtime, "until then f*****", Beer observed.
According to Beer, Oldfield denied being intoxicated at work and Ireson did not consider him to be under the influence of alcohol or unfit for work.
Willcox is also alleged to have falsely recorded hours and overtime on 23 March 2018, after not completing his full shift while attending a driver’s awareness course.
All of the charged police employees deny that they committed gross misconduct.