The new head of the Metropolitan police has promised to root out “corrupting” staff with “constructive anger” after it was revealed that recently serving officers have been posting racist content on WhatsApp.
The Home Office has confirmed that it suspended Rob Lewis, an immigration official and former Met police officer, who set up the group, which frequently used racist language and shared racist jokes and memes.
In response to a BBC Newsnight report about the group, the Met commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, said: “I will be ruthless in rooting out those corrupting officers and staff, including racists and misogynists, from our organisation.”
In a statement, the Met said that shortly after midday on Thursday, a man in his 60s had been arrested on suspicion of offences under the Communications Act and misconduct in a public office. The Met said the suspect remained in custody at a south London police station.
The Home Office said: “We expect the highest standards of our staff and have a zero-tolerance approach to anyone displaying racist, homophobic, misogynist or discriminatory behaviour. Where we are made aware of such behaviour we will not hesitate to take decisive action.”
The London mayor, Sadiq Khan, suggested further evidence of racism in the force was likely to emerge in the coming weeks.
In a reference to a forthcoming review into the Met’s standards and culture Khan said: “There’s going be further probable bad news in the next few week, with Dame Louise Casey publishing her interim report about what she has found. I asked her to look into the standards and culture. And I’m afraid her report may well be sober reading for those who are still in denial about the scale of problem.”
Newsnight reported that the WhatsApp group shared racist images that were too offensive to broadcast, and messages used “very strongest racial slurs” including the P-word and the N-word.
Some of the posts referred to the government’s policy of sending migrants to Rwanda, while others joked about flooding in Pakistan, which left almost 1,700 people dead. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex also featured in several memes, alongside racist language, Newsnight said.
Several members of the group used to work for the diplomatic protection group (DPG), a specialist operations branch of the Met that guards the Houses of Parliament and protects ministers. Newsnight reported that serving police officers were part of the group until recently, but many left following the murder of Sarah Everard by a fellow serving officer.
Dave Eden, a former member of the DPG, shared the messages with the BBC to highlight the prejudice involved.
“There are references to black politicians, which are extremely unpleasant,” he told the BBC. “The entire undertone is one of racism and misogyny.”
The Met said it had contacted Eden’s representatives earlier this year, when it first learned about the messages, “but they declined to share further details”. In a statement to Newsnight, it said: “We urge them to reconsider so we can take action.”
Eden said: “I don’t trust the system. I don’t trust professional standards or senior management, and if I was to ever speak to the Met it would be someone of very senior rank.”
In a swipe at the previous leadership of the Met, Rowley added: “I have taken over as the leader of an organisation that has been far too weak in taking on those who undermine the honest and dedicated majority who determinedly serve the public.
“That will change, and I will continue to seek out those, from both within and outside the Met, with that constructive anger who can help us reform.”
Commander Jon Savell, who is responsible for professional standards at the Met, appealed to other whistleblowers to come forward. “We appeal to anyone who has information about such behaviour to make contact,” Savell said.
Khan said the disclosure of the group showed why he had needed to fire the previous commissioner, Cressida Dick.
Speaking to LBC, he said: “In the last 24 hours, a story is broken about another example of a culture of overt racism, sexism, misogyny, and the like. And what Londoners will see is a difference in response from this commissioner, who’s not in denial, or has not been defensive versus the previous one. And it’s one of the reasons why I lost confidence in her.
“I think you can address this culture with the right leadership at the top. First you’ve got to recognise there’s a problem, and then take steps to address that.”
Khan added: “One of the things most that’s most upsetting about the Newsnight story is the lack of confidence an appalled police officer had in the system. That’s what Sir Mark is trying to change – where people will feel that if they report things that are wrong, action will be taken.”
He added: “If you’re thinking about joining the police service, if you’re thinking about staying in the police service, there’s a zero tolerance towards this sort of stuff.”
Last February, under the Met’s previous leadership, the force denied it was plagued by a culture of racism and misogyny after an official report revealed shocking details of officers sharing messages about hitting and raping women, as well as the deaths of black babies and the Holocaust.