- Authority, respect and courtesy
- Equality and diversity
The allegations presented to the hearing against Mr Phipps Were as follows:
That he was part of a WhatsApp group that consisted of himself and two other police officers called “Danny’s got a sore vagina”.
On 23 February 2019 he downloaded an extreme pornographic image onto the group of a male inserting his penis into a cow’s mouth and that between the dates of 05 June 2018 and 31 August 2020 (when the WhatsApp group started and finished) he has been part of a number of chats that are considered to be racist, homophobic and disrespectful around members of the public in the community in which he served.
It is alleged that Mr Phipps breached the Standards of Professional Behaviour relating to:
Equality and Diversity
Authority, Respect and Courtesy
In his regulation 54 (a) response to these allegations Mr Phipps accepted the facts of this case and that these amounted to gross misconduct.
Determination on facts
I am entitled to rely upon Mr Phipps’s acceptance of the facts in this case as having proved the allegations he faces.
Notwithstanding this, I separately find the evidence presented in this case overwhelmingly in support of the allegations made. These are that he sent messages and/or did not challenge messages that were discriminatory on grounds of race and sexuality, were misogynistic, contained racist terms, were insulting towards colleagues, used rape and sex offences as a topic of humour, and used offensive language. There is also evidence that he sent an image that contained bestiality into one of the Whatsapp groups, an act which he said he could not recall but equally did not deny he had done this. Had these facts not been admitted by Mr Phipps I would have comfortably found these to be proved on the balance of probabilities given the weight of evidence presented.
In accepting these facts, he also acknowledges that these represent a breach of the Standards of Professional Behaviour for discreditable conduct, equality and diversity and authority, respect and courtesy. He accepts that these breaches are so serious as to amount to gross misconduct, a determination that I would also have reached had this not been accepted.
Determination on outcome
In reaching a determination on outcome I have followed carefully the College of Policing ‘Guidance on outcomes in police misconduct proceedings’.
These identify that the purpose of the police misconduct regime is threefold;
Maintain public confidence in and the reputation of the police service
Uphold high standards in policing and deter misconduct
Protect the public
Mr Phipps has already resigned from the Constabulary, and this means there are only two outcomes now available in his case. These are;
To record a finding of gross misconduct with no disciplinary action imposed.
To record a finding of gross misconduct together with a finding that the former officer would have been dismissed if he had still been a serving member of a police force.
The second of these findings will also result in Mr Phipp’s name being added to the College of Policing barred list to prevent his re-employment into policing in the future.
In determining the appropriate sanction I have taken a three stage approach;
Assess the seriousness of the misconduct
Keep in mind the purpose of imposing sanctions
Choose the sanction which most appropriately fulfils that purpose for the seriousness of the conduct in question
The first of these steps is to assess the seriousness of the misconduct, which I have done with reference to the following four considerations:
Mr Phipp’s culpability for the misconduct
The harm caused by the misconduct
The existence of any aggravating factors
The existence of any mitigating factors
Mr Phipps has been entirely responsible for his own behaviour resulting in his misconduct. He has entered these messages into Whatsapp chats of his own free will. He has not been encouraged or coerced into this behaviour. The use of discriminatory language within these messages has not been accidental, it has been intended and has been done repeatedly. He has also chosen not to challenge the discriminatory comments and behaviour that he has seen within these chats from other people. He could have chosen to do so but he did not, instead stating that the comments were only ever meant to be ‘close to the mark’ humour and nothing more.
Within a group of ten images he posted into the chat group within a short space of time was an extreme pornographic image depicting bestiality. Whilst he says he cannot recall posting this particular image, he accepts he must have done this.
The language used within the messages would be clearly seen as discriminatory by members of the public towards those with protected characteristics. Mr Phipps contributes regularly and repeatedly to the chats and has not challenged the repeated use of derogatory terms and comments about race, sex and sexual orientation. He also has used sexist, homophobic and racist language himself within these chats, including nonce, Jew, sheikhs and bumchums. I accept that these messages were within a closed Whatsapp group and were not directed towards members of the public, however the use of such discriminatory language in this way does not give confidence to the public that a police officer who behaves in this way will always discharge their duties in accordance with the Code of Ethics. Indeed, I find it inconceivable that an officer who has used and not challenged such discriminatory terms so repeatedly in private chats, explaining them away as tongue in cheek jokes, could so definitively draw the line between their private and professional lives. This leaves me unconvinced, as he claims in his written response, that he doesn’t harness any negative ideology to any particular person or group. I do not believe that the public would believe that is possible and I have no confidence that any officer would be able to reliably satisfy me that such behaviour could not leak into their professional life.
There is no evidence that the behaviour of Mr Phipps has caused any actual harm to an individual or group of individuals as a result of his actions. However, his active participation in these chats would significantly risk undermining public confidence in policing were they to be known or come to public attention. There are people within the community with protected characteristics, for example LGBT people, who would find much of what he has included and acquiesced to in these chats deeply offensive.
His messaging also includes misogynistic comments and a failure to challenge similar comments by others. These are of national concern presently, especially since the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer. His actions threaten to undermine the considerable work that is underway within policing and Hertfordshire Constabulary to rebuild public trust, tackle misogyny within the workforce and demonstrate to women in particular that they can have confidence in the police and the way we will deal with matters that they report to us.
A number of aggravating factors I consider to be present in Mr Phipp’s behaviour. The behaviour has been repeated and sustained, from June 2018 to July 2021. The messages that include discriminatory terms have been numerous over that period.
Mr Phipps should have known from his training and the continual messaging to the workforce that such actions were completely unacceptable for a police officer, yet he has continued this behaviour. I note that his training also included a two day course in 2013 to become a Lesbian and Gay Liaison Officer, which would have included training on exactly the damaging effect such homophobic words can have upon members of the LGBT community. Attitudes such as he demonstrated are completely incompatible with the role he once trained for.
He has also witnessed the behaviour of others within these chats and their behaviour has also been discriminatory and unprofessional. Whilst he has indicated that he did once report a separate concern about an officer to management, he failed to report the behaviour subject to this misconduct investigation. Had he done so senior officers or supervisors would have been able to intervene earlier to minimise the risk of harm.
I find that there are minimal mitigating factors. Whilst he has admitted to his actions when challenged about the messaging, he did not declare these at any earlier stage. He has apologised for his actions in his response and indicates he has taken learning from the experience.
I have been provided with the record of police service for Mr Phipps and testimonials provided on his behalf. I note that he has received recognition of good work previously and is described as having been a productive officer, including being runner-up in the Mick Fogharty Problem Solving Award in 2018. I also note the additional pressures that Mr Phipps has been experiencing as a result of an incident involving a former colleague and a similar one he has witnessed since.
In considering what the outcome should be in this case I have returned to the threefold purpose of the police misconduct proceedings. I find that the nature of the gross misconduct in this case is particularly serious and damaging to public confidence such that it would not be possible to retain an officer who had behaved in such a way within the police service.
As a result and pursuant to Reg 62(1) (as modified by para 39 of Schedule 1 to the Regulations) I impose disciplinary action for gross misconduct which, pursuant to Reg 2(1) (as modified by para 1 of Schedule 1 to the Regulations), is a finding that the officer concerned would have been dismissed if he had not ceased to be a member of a police force.
I also require that his name be added to the banned list of persons not to be re-employed into policing that is maintained by the College of Policing.
- Stats since 1st January 2022
12 Misconduct Hearings
75% held in public
Hertfordshire Constabulary is the territorial police force responsible for policing the county of Hertfordshire in England. Its headquarters is in Welwyn Garden City.