Scotland Yard has sacked only 10 of the 412 police officers investigated for their allegedly abusive use of WhatsApp or social media sites such as Facebook in the past five years.
The vast majority of the officers disciplined for their conduct were instead given written warnings while others were put on “reflective learning practice” or given “management advice”.
The figures appear to support the complaint of the new Met commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, who has said the force is being hamstrung by the difficulty in sacking officers.
About 3,000 Met officers are not fully deployable because of worries over their performance or problems with their physical or mental health. A further 500 are on restricted duties or suspended over accusations of serious misconduct.
A Met spokesperson said the decision to dismiss an officer was taken by a legally qualified person who chairs the misconduct hearings and that it was beyond the control of the Met or any other force.
According to the figures published by Scotland Yard after a freedom of information request, 412 Met officers were investigated between 2017 and August 2022 over their conduct in text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, dating apps and LinkedIn, among others.
Of those, 109 cases (26%) led to informal or informal action. Scotland Yard did not provide full details for all of those cases for risk of identifying individuals, but they reported that 10 officers were dismissed and seven would have been dismissed if they had not resigned or retired.
The Met further disclosed that 11 officers had received a final written warning, suggesting that there had been previous bad conduct. A further 20 were given a warning in writing as part of a disciplinary process.
The Met reported that a further 23 officers were asked to reflect on their actions and write an account of what they did and then explore where they went wrong.
The revelations will raise fresh concerns about the Met after it was put in special measures this summer by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. That followed the uncovering of a litany of new “systemic” failings in fighting crime and serving victims.
In October, a report from the victims’ commissioner, Louise Casey, warned Rowley that the Met’s misconduct procedures were not working, with the bar for dismissal for gross misconduct being set at too high a level. A further report is expected in the new year.
According to the published figures, 37 officers were investigated over their social media in the Met in 2017, 38 in 2018, 50 in 2019, 102 in 2020, 111 in 2021 and 74 in the first eight months of this year.
Assistant Commissioner Barbara Gray from the Met said: “Officers are regularly reminded of their responsibilities when using social media both at work and off-duty. Complaints are taken seriously and are investigated in accordance with national police misconduct regulations, which determine the maximum sanction an officer can receive.
“We have pledged to be ruthless at removing officers and staff who undermine the Met’s integrity and [we are] working to bring about urgent reforms to support his commitment to improve the public’s trust and confidence in the organisation.”
Earlier this month, two Metropolitan police officers, PC Jonathon Cobban, 35, and Joel Borders, 45, who has left the force, were sentenced to three months in prison after being found guilty of sharing racist, homophobic, misogynistic and ableist messages in a WhatsApp group with the officer who murdered Sarah Everard.
They had joked on the encrypted messaging platform about beating and sexually assaulting women, raping a colleague and using Taser weapons on children.
In an exchange on 5 April 2019, Borders wrote: “I can’t wait to get on guns so I can shoot some cunt in the face!”
In June, three Metropolitan police officers appeared before a misconduct hearing accused of sharing racist and offensive messages, including likening the Duchess of Sussex to a golliwog toy and calling a black boy a monkey.
PCs Sukhdev Jeer, Paul Hefford, and former PC Richard Hammond, worked in a unit at Bethnal Green police station in east London, had been accused of sharing videos that were “explicitly racist, homophobic, sexist, ableist and Islamophobic”.
Hefford and Jeer were subsequently sacked. Delivering the panel’s decision, the chair, Maurice Cohen, said their actions were “significant and extremely serious”.