Serious organised crime groups expanded their empires while police officers in a “toxic” specialist unit traded racist, sexist, homophobic and ableist insults, a report has revealed.
Five police officers from Hampshire’s Serious Organised Crime Unit have been sacked after their “shameful” conversations were exposed by covert recording devices hidden in their office.
The county is home to more than 40 recognised crime gangs, and while these officers were making their “abhorrent” comments, groups in the area were becoming more dangerous – using firearms, engaging in child sexual abuse, and trafficking people, according to a 2019 report.
An anonymous complaint about the unit’s behaviour prompted Hampshire Constabulary to launch an investigation and its office was bugged.
A disciplinary tribunal found the six officers had committed gross misconduct with their "toxic, abhorrent" comments.
Total number of detectives in each police force
Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox and Pc James Oldfield have been dismissed without notice.
Retired detective inspector Tim Ireson, the unit’s commanding officer, and former Pc Craig Bannerman would have been sacked if they had not left the force, while trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson has been given a final written warning.
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.
Mr Beer told the hearing: "It was a unit that was plain nasty, that displayed attitudes towards groups and communities that police officers are called upon to protect."
Among 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.
Hampshire is home to more than 40 organised crime groups (OCG), according to a Community Safety Strategic Assessment published in March 2019.
During the period that these officers were working for the constabulary, the problem was growing, it shows.
“Drug related activity remains a key primary criminality accounting for 75 per cent of the Hampshire OCGs and there is a growing diversity in the secondary and tertiary criminality of those groups, including links to use of violence/weapons, including firearms in some cases and trafficking and modern slavery (including sexual offences/purposes),” the report said.
“Some are involved in organised acquisitive and economic economic crime, child sexual exploitation and abuse, money laundering and violence.
“Whilst many organised groups originate from Hampshire’s neighbouring cities, all districts record organised criminal gang activity.”
John Bassett, legally qualified chair, said: "Police officers, whether individually or as a unit, cannot pick and choose which of the standards they will abide by, in particular it is not open to members of a particular unit to disregard some of the standards in the belief that this makes them more of an effective or cohesive unit.
"In the panel’s opinion, the matters it has found proved are the antithesis of what the public expects and what is clearly set out in the standards of public behaviour.
"The conduct in question was shameful."
He added that the sacked officers’ names would be placed on a public list of banned officers.
Olivia Pinkney, chief constable of Hampshire Police, said: "During the hearing, the panel heard a catalogue of sexist, racist, homophobic and ableist language and commentary that has rightly shocked us all, and understandably left people with many questions about how this has been allowed to happen.
"I have always said that policing is built upon the values of professionalism, compassion, courage and integrity and the public have a right to expect the highest standards from the officers and staff who are entrusted to keep them safe.
"These officers have failed to deliver on the promise they made to uphold fundamental human rights and accord equal respect to all people, the oath they declared when they took the office of constable.
"There is no place in my force, or in policing more widely, for those who do not live up to this standard.