'Racist and sexist' Hampshire police unit officers dismissed

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Image source, Solent News
Image caption,
Former Det Insp Tim Ireson led the unit for two years and would have been sacked if he was still serving

Three members of a "toxic" police unit have been sacked for gross misconduct after their "offensive" conversations were secretly bugged.

The devices picked up "homophobic, racist and sexist" conversations in the offices of Hampshire's Serious and Organised Crime Unit in Basingstoke in 2018, a misconduct panel heard.

A number of force staff referred to it as a "lads' pad".

Two other officers would have been sacked but had already left the force.

The misconduct hearing was told in the 24 days the office was bugged - following concerns raised by a whistleblower - there was "enough profanity, casual sexism and racism to last a lifetime".

Det Sgt Oliver Lage, Det Sgt Gregory Willcox and PC James Oldfield have been dismissed while retired Det Insp Tim Ireson and former PC Craig Bannerman were the two who had previously left the force.

Trainee Det Con Andrew Ferguson, who sent colleagues a fake pornographic image of members of the royal family, has been given a final written warning.

Image caption,
The six men were based at the Serious and Organised Crime Unit in Basingstoke

Imposing the sanctions, panel chairman John Bassett said the conduct had been "shameful".

He said police officers could not "pick and choose the standards they will abide by" in order to create more "cohesive" teams.

Mr Bassett said PC Ferguson was "essentially a good officer" who joined the team three months before the recordings, by which time the "culture was well-established".

He said the officer was "conflicted by what he witnessed" and "felt unable to raise the matter with a supervisor".

Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney said the force's internal investigation had revealed a "catalogue of sexist, racist, homophobic and ableist language and commentary that has rightly shocked us all".

She added: "These officers have failed to deliver on the promise they made to uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people.

"[They] have undermined the trust and confidence of our communities and damaged the reputations of their colleagues."

'Racist tropes'

The six officers have apologised but some told the disciplinary panel swearing was in the "fabric" of the police force.

One also said they felt they were being "made an example of" by the force which should have learned from other previous incidents.

In all, 20 police officers and staff from the unit have faced some sort of disciplinary action.

During the misconduct hearing at Hampshire Constabulary's headquarters in Eastleigh, it was heard a "toxic, abhorrent culture" developed with officers using offensive terms for women, black people, immigrants, disabled, gay and transgender people and foreign nationals.

Jason Beer QC, prosecuting, said the only black member of the team was referred to using racist tropes and references to slavery.

Women were described using derogatory terms and stared at in the canteen, he added.

The men admitted some of the charges of breaching standards of professional behaviour against them but claimed it only amounted to misconduct not gross misconduct.

Zoe Wakefield, chair of Hampshire Police Federation, said: "The outdated and offensive views we heard during the hearing have no place in society and they certainly have no place in policing.

"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..."

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