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The incidents were predominantly focused on Charing Cross Police station, where the IOPC examined “thousands” of messages between officers, finding many which were “highly sexualised, discriminatory or referred to violence”.
The IOPC report notes malicious comments were a frequent part of the bullying – but were downplayed as “friendly banter” or “laddish banter,” so were not dealt with.
It adds that “banter” was used to excuse offensive and discriminatory behaviour and undermined those who did not participate or found it unacceptable.
“Accepting such messages as ‘banter’, led to inaction, allowing the culture to permeate and persist, whilst those on the receiving end felt harassed and that they had to accept it to avoid feeling humiliated and ostracised,” investigators found.
The report exposes the type of communication considered as ‘banter’ by some, including numerous messages about rape and raping each other. One officer sent a message saying: “I would happily rape you”.
Other messages exchanged between officers in the force included multiple references to rape, domestic abuse of officers’ partners, racist and homophobic comments and texts about police officers attending a festival dressed as known sex offenders and a molested child.
Bad behaviour went beyond online messages, with incidents investigated including “demeaning and intimidating actions towards police officers on probation, such as beckoning them with a bell, and threats to cut their hair and belongings” and female staff members being sexually harassed.
The IOPC noted that behaviour often went unreported because of “a lack of confidence that it would be dealt with effectively and [a] fear of repercussions”.
The watchdog also warned that several different factors, including shift patterns, a lack of supervision and unofficial promotions are leaving the culture of discrimination and harassment in the force to go unchecked.
“An underlying culture allowed conduct issues to permeate and behavioural problems went unchallenged”, the report said.
During the investigation, 14 officers were put under notice that they were being investigated.
Two officers were dismissed for gross misconduct and put on the barred list preventing future employment with the police.
The IOPC has made 15 recommendations to the Met Police to tackle “underlying cultural issues”, including recommendations to commit publicly to being an anti-racist organisation with a “zero-tolerance policy towards sexism, misogyny, bullying and harassment”.
IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem said of the report: “The behaviour we uncovered was disgraceful and fell well below the standards expected of the officers involved. While these officers predominantly worked in teams in Westminster, which have since been disbanded, we know from other recent cases that these issues are not isolated or historic.
“We acknowledge work carried out by the Met to tackle these problems, including its Rebuilding Trust plan focusing on standards, culture and women’s safety; the strengthening of its whistleblowing line; and the STRIDE 25 strategy and action plan for inclusion, diversity and engagement.
MPS culture and standards of behaviour are also subject to a formal review by Baroness Casey of Blackstock. While we welcome these steps, more is required.”
In its response to the report, deputy assistant commissioner Bas Javid said: “I am angry and disappointed to see officers involved in sharing sexist, racist and discriminatory messages. It’s clear we have a lot of work to do to ensure bullying and discrimination does not exist in any part of the Met.
“The actions of these officers between 2016 and 2018 were unacceptable, unprofessional, disrespectful and deeply offensive. I read their messages with increasing disgust and shame.
“We haven’t waited for the IOPC’s report to take action – a number of officers have been subject to misconduct proceedings, including one officer dismissed and one who would have been dismissed had he not already resigned. Every Met employee has also been spoken to about responsible use of social media.
“We recognise that there is need for real change in the Met and we are committed to creating an environment that is even more intolerant to those who do not uphold the high values and standards expected of us.”