Six officers face sack after being found guilty of gross misconduct

Six officers in gangbusting police unit where they joked that black colleague had been flown ‘from Africa in a crate’ and shared fake porn images of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton face sack after being found guilty of gross misconduct

  • Misconduct hearing told unit was ‘ableist, sexist, racist, trans and homophobic’
  • The six officers will be able to appeal decisions handed down at hearing today
  • If unsuccessful, sanctions which may include dismissal will be given next month

Six police officers in a gangbusting police unit where they joked that a black colleague had been flown in ‘from Africa in a cate’ and shared fake porn images of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton face the sack after being found guilty of gross misconduct.  

Detective Inspector Timothy Ireson, Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox, trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson, PC James Oldfield, and PC Craig Bannerman from Hampshire Constabulary learned their fate at a misconduct hearing today.

The serious organised crime team were caught using ‘the whole array’ of offensive language in a series of covert recordings after a complaint was made about their behaviour. 

As the findings were read out today, after a disciplinary panel spent two days deliberating a raft of allegations against the team, PC Oldfield, who ‘boasted about coming into work drunk’, even interrupted proceedings to shout: ‘This is an absolute disgrace. It is absolutely ridiculous. Unbelievable.’

Det Insp Timothy Ireson (pictured) said he should have been aware of an ‘escalation in behaviour’ among his officers as they made repeated ‘stomach turning’ remarks

The officers within the SOCU unit at Northern Police Investigation Centre in Basingstoke, Hants were accused of either making ‘abhorrent’ comments, or not challenging others when those remarks were made.

A bug was planted to make the covert recording between March 9 2018 and April 2 2018 following an anonymous complaint to a whistleblowing service.

Prosecutor Jason Beer QC said that although the recording only lasted for 24 days the investigation uncovered ‘enough racism and sexism to last a lifetime’. 

The hearing was told officers likened the unit’s only black officer, DC Solomon Koranteng, to a mixed breed dog, sang the Bob Marley song Buffalo Soldier at him and said he had been flown ‘from Africa in a crate’ and taken to London Zoo.

The squad also placed a map of Africa above the area in the office where DC Koranteng and another officer of African heritage sat and nicknamed it ‘African Corner’.

On the recording women were referred to as ‘sl**s’, ‘sugar t***’ and ‘sweet t***’, while an officer’s partner was described as ‘an absolute w***e’.

Officers also sent ‘explicit’ fake pornographic images of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton having sex to the work’s WhatsApp group.

Today the hearing, viewed by members of the press via video link in Winchester, Hants, heard that each individual officer’s offences amounted to gross misconduct.

The panel’s chairman, lawyer John Bassett said: ‘The panel, having spent the last two days in deliberation, can now provide our findings.

‘In respect of each officer the cumulative finding is gross misconduct.

‘We have provided a summary in respect of each allegation faced by the officers and indicated our individual findings in relation to each of those matters.’

DI Ireson, who along with DS Willcox was found guilty of failing to supervise and set boundaries for the team, had previously claimed ‘swearing was in the fabric’ of the police force.

The officers found guilty of gross misconduct are Detective Inspector Timothy Ireson, Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox, trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson, PC James Oldfield, and PC Craig Bannerman. Pictured: Hampshire Police and Investigation Centre in Basingstoke 

However he admitted some of the comments made were ‘stomach turning’.

Defence counsel claimed that the stress and intense workload on the ‘highly successful’ gang-busting unit led to strong bonds forming within the team and they ‘forgot to apply the filter’ when in the office.

The officers argued the investigation into their behaviour had ‘lost all sense of perspective’.

However, prosecutors said DI Ireson’s ‘permissive’ leadership allowed a toxic culture to become embedded in SOCU North where anyone could say anything and not be challenged.

Three of the PCs in the team, which was described as ‘ableist, sexist, racist, transphobic and homophobic’, were heard joking that ‘Albanian migrants’ should be shot on entry to the UK or killed with a nerve agent and called women derogatory terms.

Joanna Bunch, an intelligence analyst who worked on jobs with the team, said: ‘The SOCU Office North just seemed to be stuck in a time from 25-years-ago.’

DI Ireson has retired and PC Bannerman has resigned since the covert recordings were made at the force’s serious organised crime unit.

The officers will be able to appeal the decisions. If they are unsuccessful sanctions, which could include dismissal, will be handed down on January 4.

The panel was made up of Mr Bassett, a male police superintendent and a female lawyer.

Earlier in the hearing, a junior officers said that in the ‘isolated’ unit everyone became ‘inappropriately cavalier’ due to a culture in which nothing was ever challenged. 

DI Ireson (pictured) was in charge of the specialist team and has been accused of showing ‘weak’ and ‘permissive’ leadership

This was exacerbated by DI Ireson’s ‘weak’ leadership as he presided over a ‘toxic’ workplace, the disciplinary hearing at Hampshire Police HQ in Eastleigh heard.   

Earlier this week the hearing was told of DI Ireson’s reaction to claims his relaxed attitude allowed a ‘toxic’ culture to develop.

Luke Ponte, defending DI Ireson, said: ‘He accepted in his evidence that a cavalcade of words and phrases that are the subject of recordings fell at the extreme end of the scale.

‘Hearing those words in this room, seeing those words, single obscenity by obscenity, is impactful and shocking and turns the stomach.’

Mr Ponte said however, that there was a complete ‘absence of evidence’ that DI Ireson was aware of the worst ‘excesses’ of his team’s behaviour.

He added: ‘He tolerated a degree of teasing, swearing, inappropriate language but nothing which approaches the extreme and obviously inappropriate language in the probes.’

He also argued the misconduct hearing had acted as a ‘magnifying glass’ and ignored the context in which specific words were used.

He continued: ‘Extreme language was used [by the team] but the process given by these proceedings inevitably amplifies that.

‘They were repeated when the opening note was addressed to you, they were repeated again when officers gave evidence when cross examined.

‘I say [this process] acts as a magnifying glass. That operational focus has tracked ever closer to a phrase here, a word there, to the exclusion of all else around it.’

Mr Ponte said that the panel would have to consider to what extent DI Ireson’s ‘failings in leadership’ led to the ‘toxic culture’.

He continued: ‘His conduct does not reflect the egregious behaviour of his team… He accepts with hindsight his leadership should have been more rigorous, more intrusive.

‘He should not have tolerated the extent of swearing. He should have been more alert to the question of an escalation of behaviour.

‘His style of management, was informed by good intentions. He’s a decent man but with shortcomings in the end.’

Six officers within the SOCU unit at Northern Police Investigation Centre in Basingstoke, Hants have been found guilty of gross misconduct. Pictured: Hampshire Police HQ

However, Adrian Keeling, QC, defending PC Oldfield, said the culture developed because DI Ireson failed to manage the team.

He added that the stress and intense workload on the ‘highly successful’ unit led to strong relationships forming and officers would ‘forget to apply the filter’.

Mr Keeling said: ‘The culture that arose was a powerful one and so powerful it influenced a large number of officers.

‘However, toxicity is too easy and too glib and too pejorative a description. What was said was restricted to that closed environment.

‘[The officers] had become inappropriately cavalier in what they could, or could not, say in that context.

‘What has happened is in that closed environment they forgot, or neglected, to put on the filter they would have elsewhere.

‘It is to be noted quite how many officers said things or failed to challenge them.

‘It is highly unlikely this unit somehow managed to have in it a large proportion of discriminatory officers, that somehow all the bad apples had ended up in the same office.’  

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