An attempt by ten police officers to prevent disciplinary proceedings against them in connection with antisemitic and racist Whatsapp messages has cost Police Scotland nearly £200,000, it has been reported.
Whatsapp messages described as being “sexist and degrading, racist, antisemitic, homophobic, mocking of disability and included a flagrant disregard for police procedures by posting crime scene photos of current investigations,” were discovered in the course of an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct on the part of another officer, who was later cleared.
After the messages were discovered in 2016, Police Scotland’s Professional Standards department sought to discipline the officers implicated in the messages in November 2017. However, the Scottish Police Federation tried to block the disciplinary proceedings on behalf of the officers on the basis that they were entitled to privacy under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and a common law right to privacy. Last month, however, three appeal judges upheld an earlier ruling that rejected those arguments, claiming that the duty to uphold professional standards on the police force overrode the right to privacy and that it was proportionate for Police Scotland to use the messages.
Following the ruling, The Ferret submitted a Freedom of Information request to Police Scotland, which revealed that its legal bill to date is £189,366.04 (including VAT).
Police Scotland reportedly noted in its reply that “subject to the outcome of any further proceedings, Police Scotland intends to seek an award of expenses in its favour as a result of being successful both in the outer and inner houses of the court of session.”
A spokesperson for Police Scotland reportedly said: “Because of their position, our officers are held to higher standards than ordinary members of the public and this is consistently made clear from the first day of training. The inner house judgment underlined that these high standards also apply to the virtual space. The vast majority of our officers conduct themselves in line with our values of fairness, integrity and respect. Where inappropriate conduct is brought to our attention it will be considered by our professional standards department. All probationary officers still involved in this long running court action have been placed on restricted duties pending further proceedings.”
A spokesperson for the Scottish Police Federation reportedly said: “The SPF does not comment on any individual legal cases.”
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “We welcome this judgement, so that the messages in question can be properly investigated and the public can be confident that everyone will receive equal treatment without discrimination by the police in Scotland.”