A serving police officer and an ex-colleague have been warned there is a real possibility they will go to jail after being found of sending grossly offensive misogynistic and racist messages in a WhatsApp group that included Sarah Everard’s killer.
PC Jonathon Cobban, 35, a Metropolitan police officer, and Joel Borders, 45, had joked about beating and sexually assaulting women, raping a colleague and using Taser weapons on children, their trial had been told.
Another serving police officer who was in the same group, PC William Neville, was found not guilty on Wednesday of two counts of the same offense the others had been charged with – the sending of a grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing message on a public electronic communications network.
Delivering her judgment, district judge Sarah Turnock said the WhatsApp group which the messages were posted to have been viewed by the defendant “as a safe space, involving a small number of like-minded individuals, in which they had free rein to share controversial and deeply offensive messages without fear of retribution”.
She even referred to how, in cross-examination, Borders agreed with the proposition that “within the privacy of this group [they] could say whatever the hell they liked”.
They swapped what they claimed was “banter” about using Taser weapons on children and people with disabilities, and referred to Hounslow as a “Somali shithole” in comments made in the group, “Bottle and Stoppers”, in 2019.
In an exchange on 5 April that year, Borders wrote: “I can’t wait to get on guns so I can shoot some cunt in the face!”
Cobban responded: “Me too. I want to Taser a cat and a dog to see which reacts better. I think the cat will get more pissed off and the dog will shit. I wanna test this theory. Same with children. Zap zap you little fuckers.”
Borders replied, suggesting adding “downys” – a term the prosecution said referred to people with Down’s syndrome – to the list.
The judge said it was “abhorrent” that Borders “demonstrates an ableist attitude by then adding a disabled person to Cobban’s disgusting list of victims”.
She added: “I can honestly say that I consider it to be sickening to think of a police officer joking about using firearms in this way.”
Other comments had included Cobban and Borders implying that victims of domestic abuse encouraged the physical and psychological torment to which they were subjected, their trial was told.
“DV victims love it. That’s why they’re repeat victims more often than not,” Cobban wrote in a message in June 2019.
Turnock, who said she had no doubt that victims of domestic abuse would be grossly offended by the comments, added in her judgment: “For police officers to find it funny to promulgate these negative stereotypes which are held towards vulnerable members of our society and which are partly responsible for the well-known under-reporting of sexual crimes in this country is, frankly, sickening.”
Cobban was found guilty of three separate offenses of sending grossly offensive messages on a public communications network, while Borders was found guilty of five separate offenses under the same legislation.
The Met issued a statement in which the force said it was “deeply sorry” for how the officers had “let down the public” and described their behavior as “despicable”.
Commander Jon Savell, from the Met police department that includes professional standards, said: “We are determined to rid this organization of those who corrupt its integrity and are increasing our efforts to do that more quickly. As a result, we may well see more emerging cases, as we leave no stone unturned in tackling offensive behavior.”
The file of evidence had been passed to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) by the Independent Office of Police Investigations (IOPC), which initiated its own investigation in April last year after a referral by the Met.
The IOPC investigation had found a case to answer against three officers for gross misconduct, along with another three officers who were not criminally investigated and are from the Met, Norfolk constabulary and the Civil Nuclear constabulary.
Now that the criminal case has concluded it would be for the forces to progress disciplinary proceedings, said the IOPC.
Its regional director for London, Sal Naseem, said the messages sent by the police officers were inexcusable and particularly disturbing given the profession they represented.
“Behaviour of this nature seriously undermines public confidence in policing. It is part of our role, and for police forces themselves, to ensure that it is rooted out and those responsible are held to account for their actions,” he added.
Cobban and Borders will be sentenced on 2 November at Westminster magistrates court, where evidence was heard in July.