The police watchdog has launched a criminal investigation into six serving officers and one former officer after “discriminatory, derogatory or pornographic” messages were shared in a WhatsApp group.
Five of the officers work for the Oxfordshire-based Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC), as did the ex-officer. The other officer has since moved to another force in the South West.
All seven are being investigated over “grossly offensive messages” under the Communications Act, the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said.
They have also been told they are under investigation for potential gross misconduct, although it does not mean criminal charges or misconduct proceedings will follow.
The investigation was launched after information came to light in a separate police investigation.
The case is not linked to previous probes into WhatsApp groups which had members including Sarah Everard’s killer, Metropolitan Police officer Wayne Couzens.
It is also not related to the arrest of a man after a Home Office immigration official, who used to work for the Met, was suspended over allegations he had been posting racist messages on the social media platform.
The IOPC said it cannot provide further information on the latest investigation, including the name of the other police force, as it may identify those involved.
IOPC regional director Catherine Bates said: “The allegations against these officers and a former officer are extremely serious and concerning.
“On conclusion of our investigation we will decide whether the matters should be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service, whose role it is to determine whether criminal charges will follow.
“As this work is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”
It comes as Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley announced plans for a new anti-corruption unit to crack down on officers and staff who are misogynistic, homophobic or sexist, and other forms of abusive behaviour.
The Met’s new Anti-Corruption and Abuse Command has been launched to root out “criminal colleagues”. More detectives will be hired, staff could face more drug testing and new technology will be used to overhaul work to track down corrupt officers, the force said.
A 100-strong team will investigate police who are “predatory, who abuse their position of trust – for their personal, financial or sexual advantage – whether on duty, off duty, in person or online”, using undercover tactics where needed.
Overall the plan boosts the numbers working in the professional standards department by 130 officers and 20 staff, according to the Met.
Sir Mark said: “As part of my commitment to renew policing by consent and to bring more trust, less crime and high standards to the Met, I’m investing in extra officers and staff, skills and technology to root out those corrupt or abusive officers or staff.
“We will be proactive and unrelenting in actively seeking out these criminal colleagues. I make no apology for this ruthlessness in evicting those who undermine our integrity as we seek to reform the Met and give the public the confidence in us they deserve.”
On Thursday a man in his 60s was arrested on suspicion of offences under the Communications Act and misconduct in a public office and has been released on bail, the Met said.
This followed a BBC investigation which claimed a Government immigration official, who used to work for Scotland Yard, had been posting racist messages on WhatsApp.
Newsnight reported Rob Lewis had created a group chat with other former Met officers.
The Home Office said it had suspended a member of staff after allegations of gross misconduct.