A SUSSEX Police officer faced misconduct proceedings after investigations into social media messages relating to Sarah Everard's killer.

A total of five police officers are involved in the probe over messages linked to Wayne Couzens, who is serving a life sentence for murder, rape and kidnap.

Officers from four different forces were identified following two separate investigations by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

The Sussex Police officer - who was on secondment from the force - faced a disciplinary panel following a conversation on messaging app Signal, an encrypted service which is similar to WhatsApp.

It was alleged that during the conversation, an officer from a different force shared details of an interview given by Couzens which came out during a private court hearing several months before he admitted killing the 33-year-old.

The Sussex Police officer was accused of breaching professional standards of behaviour for conduct, authority, respect and courtesy, as well as standards for challenging and reporting improper behaviour.

At the meeting held this week misconduct was not proven, however, it was decided that the officer should undergo the reflective practice review process in respect of one of the messages that had been sent and the tone of the conversation.

While an officer from Dorset Police was found to have a case to answer for gross misconduct after the IOPC looked at whether the messages, had they got into the public domain, would have discredited the police service and potentially interfered with the course of justice. It also considered whether there was a legitimate policing purpose in sharing the information.

Dorset Police will now organise a gross misconduct hearing for the officer, who was also on secondment from the force, for potential breaches of professional standards of behaviour relating to confidentiality, conduct, and challenging and reporting improper behaviour.

Evidence gathered during the six-month investigation indicated that officers from other forces had joined in the conversation, endorsing comments made by others and making unprofessional remarks about Couzens.

In relation to this the IOPC found another officer, from Avon and Somerset Constabulary, also had a case to answer for misconduct for alleged breaches of professional standards of behaviour for conduct, authority, respect and courtesy. Another hearing will take place soon, says the IOPC.

IOPC Regional Director Sal Naseem said: “In April this year we warned about the unacceptable use of social media by officers based on a number of cases involving the posting of offensive and inappropriate material.

“We wrote to the National Police Chiefs Council, asking them to remind forces and officers of their obligations under the police code of ethics and standards of professional behaviour.

“The allegations involved in these two investigations, if proven, have the capacity to further undermine public confidence in policing. They also once more illustrate the potential consequences for officers and come at a time when policing standards and culture have never been more firmly in the spotlight.”

Couzens was convicted of the kidnap, rape and murder of 33-year-old Sarah Everard in March this year.

The IOPC has already carried out another investigation into allegations over messages relating to the case which were sent via WhatsApp

Following a referral from the Metropolitan Police Service in March this year, the IOPC investigated allegations that a probationary constable used WhatsApp to share with colleagues an inappropriate graphic, depicting violence against women.

The investigation, completed in August, indicated that the graphic was intended to be in reference to the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer.

It was established that the officer was off duty at the time but went on to staff a cordon as part of the search for Ms Everard.

The graphic was challenged by colleagues and reported internally.

The image was reportedly highly offensive and the officer now has a case to answer for misconduct for potentially breaching standards of professional behaviour for conduct and authority, respect and courtesy.

It was found that one other probationary constable had a case to answer for misconduct for allegedly sharing the graphic and failing to challenge it. The officer will face a misconduct meeting to decide if they were breaching standards of professional behaviour for challenging and reporting the alleged behaviour.

Another constable was found to not have a case to answer for misconduct but will undergo reflective practice. This was on the basis that while they thought the graphic was inappropriate, rather than reporting it, the image was forwarded to two people seeking their advice on how to deal with the situation.

The IOPC is continuing to investigate the conduct of five officers from three forces and one former officer who allegedly sent discriminatory messages as part of a WhatsApp group between March and October 2019. The messages were recovered from an old mobile phone discovered during the police investigation into Ms Everard’s murder.

Other ongoing investigations are looking at how Kent Police in 2015, and the MPS in 2021, handled allegations of indecent exposure now linked to Couzens.

Both investigations are considering whether policies and procedures were followed, and if any issues identified may have impacted on the vetting of the former officer who is now serving a life sentence for his crimes.

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