02:18, September 21 217 0 theguardian.com

2017-09-21 02:18:03
Met police chat forum was used to post insults aimed at Gypsies

Three Metropolitan police officers and a police staff member should face misconduct meetings for participating in an online chat site that carried derogatory comments about Gypsies and Irish Travellers, a watchdog has ruled.

The finding by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) reverses previous internal Met police disciplinary inquiries and has prompted accusations that the force is “incapable” of investigating itself.

The four serving Met employees are criticised by the IPCC not for making the inappropriate comments but for failing to challenge them when they were posted on a Facebook group called “I’ve met the Met”, which is used primarily by serving and retired Met officers.

Among the posts, according to the Traveller Movement charity, were: “I fucking hate Pikeys” and “You know when they are lying … their lips move.” It is not known who posted the comments.

Some of the comments were made during a discussion in March 2015 about the BBC Trust’s decision to clear Jeremy Clarkson and other Top Gear presenters of wrongdoing for their use of the word “pikey”.

The Facebook group was marked secret and membership was by invitation only. The original conversation has now been deleted.

None of the material was so serious that it constituted a crime, the IPCC said. The watchdog said the four had potentially breached standards of professional behaviour in relation to authority, respect and courtesy, equality and diversity, and failing to challenge inappropriate behaviour.

A police misconduct meeting deals with less serious issues. It cannot result in staff being sacked.

The original complaint was made by the Traveller Movement. Its chief executive, Yvonne MacNamara, welcomed the IPCC decision: “The lack of confidence the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities have in the police can come as no surprise if this is how the police treat discriminatory comments against them.

“It is high time we saw a root and branch review of the way the police treats Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, who deserve the same quality of service and policing as any other member of our society.”

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Any racist comments directed towards the Gypsy and Traveller community or anyone else are clearly unacceptable … we support the IPCC’s recommendation that the officers at hand should be subject to misconduct meetings and we urge the Met to take this seriously.”

Herman Ouseley, former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality, said: “This case shows that the police are incapable of investigating complaints about themselves and dealing with discrimination allegations in a fair manner.”

Janette McCormick, acting chief constable of Cheshire constabulary and the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller issues, said: “Social networking sites have many benefits but they also carry risks of compromising operational effectiveness and causing reputational damage if used inappropriately by police officers and staff.

“Everyone has a right to privacy and to share opinions and experiences with friends and associates, but people should also be aware of the risks they are subject to when they identify themselves as being a member of the police service.”

A spokesman for the IPCC said: “The complainant has twice appealed against decisions reached by the Metropolitan police investigation, and these appeals have been upheld by the IPCC.

“Following the latest appeal, the IPCC has recommended the Met police hold misconduct meetings … for potentially breaching standards of professional behaviour in relation to authority, respect and courtesy, equality and diversity, and challenging inappropriate behaviour.”

The Met said: “The IPCC recommended … that three officers and one member of police staff should undergo misconduct meetings. The Met is considering this recommendation.

“The original investigation arose from a complaint made by a member of the public on 29 June 2015 to the MPS [Metropolitan Police Service] regarding ex and serving personnel’s comments about members of the Traveller community that had been made on a community Facebook page – this was not a corporate MPS site nor one supported for use by the MPS.

“The directorate of professional standards concluded a reinvestigation on Monday 27 March into inappropriate comments made on a social media site and found that no serving MPS personnel had committed any criminal offences or breaches of professional standards.”

As an outcome of this investigation, the Met said, six officers had already received “management action”.