'Toxic' organised crime police unit boss admits 'management failings'

Commanding officer of ‘toxic’ organised crime police unit admits his ‘management failings’ led to culture plagued by ‘abhorrent’ racist, sexist, homophobic comments – as six officers face the sack for gross misconduct

  • Police who used ‘racist, sexist and homophobic’ language ‘must be dismissed’ 
  • The officers were based at Hampshire police’s Serious Organised Crime Unit
  • Comments were recorded using covert devices between March and April 2018
  • They were all found guilty of gross misconduct and now face being sacked 

The commanding officer of a ‘toxic’ specialist police unit accepts that his ‘failings of management’ helped lead to the discriminatory culture that developed amongst his officers, a tribunal heard today.  

Six officers from Hampshire Constabulary’s Serious Organised Crime Unit (Socu) office in Basingstoke, Hampshire were all found guilty of gross misconduct after they were recorded using ‘racist, sexist and homophobic’ language.  

Bugging devices placed in the unit’s offices between March and April 2018 recorded them calling women ‘w****s’ and ‘s**ts’, comparing black officers to dogs and saying Albanians should be killed with ‘nerve agent’, a disciplinary hearing was previously told. 

Retired Detective Inspector Tim Ireson, Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox, former PC Craig Bannerman, trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson and PC James Oldfield have all been found to have breached professional standards at a disciplinary hearing.

Mr Ireson and Det Sgt Willcox were also accused at the tribunal of failing to fulfill their supervisory roles to stop or report the inappropriate behaviour.

The detectives in charge of the unit claimed they allowed a ‘relaxed’ culture to develop because they were trying to build a ‘cohesive’ team but instead brought ‘shame’ to the police force. 

The panel is now sitting to determine what sanction the officers should face, with dismissal an option for gross misconduct which they have all been found to have committed. 

The panel is now sitting to determine what sanction the officers should face, with dismissal an option for gross misconduct which they have all been found to have committed. 

Luke Ponte, representing Mr Ireson, said that his client had not used discriminatory language but had used offensive language such as swear words which ‘risked encouraging others to do the same’. 

Det Insp Timothy Ireson (pictured) said he should have been aware of an ‘escalation in behaviour’ among his officers as they made repeated ‘stomach turning’ remarks

Six officers from Hampshire Constabulary’s Serious Organised Crime Unit office, who were previously all found guilty of gross misconduct, were told by a prosecutor that ‘there was no place for them’ in the police force. Pictured: Hampshire Police HQ

He added: ‘He was not himself a racist or sexist or phobic or a bully, he is not someone who would target the weak or the vulnerable or the different, he is not someone or was not an officer insensitive to the issues of diversity.

‘A culture developed, and to an extent, he allowed to develop in the Socu office, and he accepts that was caused in part by his failings of management.

‘His intention was to permit a more relaxed atmosphere which he felt would sustain a cohesive and productive team. He now sees too much allowance was given and boundaries became blurred.’

The officers within the SOCU unit were accused of either making ‘abhorrent’ comments, or not challenging others when those remarks were made. 

A bug was planted to make the covert recording between March 9, 2018 and April 2, 2018 following an anonymous complaint to a whistleblowing service.

Prosecutor Jason Beer QC said that although the recording only lasted for 24 days the investigation uncovered ‘enough racism and sexism to last a lifetime’.

Today, he told the hearing: ‘In summary, in light of the specific findings of gross misconduct made against each officer in respect of certain allegations – they must be dismissed immediately.

‘There is no place for them in Hampshire police.’

The officers accused of gross misconduct were Detective Inspector Timothy Ireson, Detective Sergeant Oliver Lage, Detective Sergeant Gregory Willcox, trainee Detective Constable Andrew Ferguson, PC James Oldfield, and PC Craig Bannerman.

The hearing, held in Eastleigh and viewed by members of the press via video link, heard that DI Ireson and DS Willcox admitted failings as supervisors but were not aware of the ‘severity and extremity’ of the language being used. 

Officers likened the unit’s only black officer, DC Solomon Koranteng, to a mixed breed dog, sang the Bob Marley song Buffalo Soldier at him and said he had been flown ‘from Africa in a crate’ and taken to London Zoo.

The squad also placed a map of Africa above the area in the office where DC Koranteng and another officer of African heritage sat and nicknamed it ‘African Corner’. 

Members of a ‘toxic’ specialist police unit, the Serious Organised Crime Unit (pictured) office in Basingstoke, Hampshire, must be dismissed immediately, a hearing heard today

Officers also sent fake pornographic images of Prince Harry and Kate Middleton to the work WhatsApp group. 

Joanna Bunch, an intelligence analyst who worked on jobs with the team said the team was ‘stuck in a time from 25 years ago’.

Defence counsel for DS Willcox today said that he accepted he should have adopted a zero tolerance approach to ‘banter’ in the office.

Edmund Gritt said: ‘This is not an excuse and it is not a defence but an explanation… the venting of steam and stress, the closed room environment, the building of a successful team.

‘The intentions in terms of his tolerance and his engagement in this behaviour may have been laudable but were effected in a completely wrongheaded manner.’

He said that DS Willcox, who has 27 years service, had spent his career ‘eliminating some of the most serious criminals effecting the county’ and beyond.

‘These findings do not extinguish without a trace his dedicated commitment to the people of Hampshire,’ he added.

DI Ireson has retired and PC Bannerman has resigned since the covert recordings were made at the force’s serious organised crime unit.

The panel was made up of lawyer John Bassett, a male police superintendent and a female lawyer.

The hearing continues, with a final decision on the sanctions expected to be made on Friday. 

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