Sussex police sergeant warned after superimposing colleague’s face onto pornographic picture
A Sussex police sergeant who sent inappropriate messages about colleagues, and superimposed a female officer’s face onto a pornographic picture of a naked woman, has been handed a final written warning after his actions were found to have amounted to gross misconduct.
Police sergeant Rob Adams, based at Hastings, was a member of a team WhatsApp group, between 2017 and 2019, that consisted of 20 police constables.
Over a period of 17 months, PS Adams was found to have sent messages containing explicit or pornographic images, participated in conversations of a sexual nature, participated in conversations that were derogatory about colleagues and instigated conversations about the physical appearance of a female colleague by sharing a screenshot of one of her Instagram posts into the WhatsApp group.
The hearing also heard PS Adams created a Secret Santa gift for a colleague in December 2017 by cutting a picture of a naked woman from a pornographic magazine and superimposed a female colleague’s face onto the image. He mounted it in a frame and a picture of it was then shared into the WhatsApp group, the hearing was told.
PS Adams admitted his behaviour amounted to misconduct, but denied gross misconduct.
On Friday (December 4), Alice Sims, the chair of the disciplinary hearing, concluded PS Adams’ behaviour amounted to gross misconduct as it ‘breached the professional behaviour expected of the police’.
She told the hearing: “I know it was not your intention to offend any members of your group. There is no evidence anyone was offended. But I am concerned that this was a WhatsApp group for mix use. It was a group for personal messages as well as operational duties.
“On a number of occasions, you instigated the behaviour while in the role of a supervisor. We find that your behaviour amounted to gross misconduct.”
Charges of gross misconduct can result in dismissal from the force but the panel decided to issue PS Adams with a final written warning instead.
Alice Sims said the panel took into consideration PS Adams’ early apology and his ‘genuine remorse’ since the allegations came to light.
She said there were six incidents of messages which she described as being ‘inappropriate and of a sexual nature’ from PS Adams over a period of 17 months which saw thousands of messages exchanged on the WhatsApp group.
James Berry, bringing the case for Sussex Police, told the hearing PS Adams was issued with a written warning in February 2020 after failing to disclose a relationship with a colleague.
Mr Berry called on the panel to dismiss PS Adams from the force to ‘send a message’ to all other members of the police that this kind of conduct would not be tolerated.
PS Adams claimed the WhatsApp group, which was made up of a ‘close-knit team’, was used for both work and social purposes.
The hearing was told that none of the other members of the WhatsApp group were offended by PS Adams’ messages, but Mr Berry said this did not make his behaviour acceptable.
Defending PS Adams, Mark Aldred said it would have been inappropriate to make these jokes in the work place, but argued – in this case – they were made in a private WhatsApp group while PS Adams and the other officers were off duty.
He argued PS Adams’ conduct – which he called ‘smutty schoolboy behaviour’ – amounted to misconduct but not gross misconduct.
Asking the panel to consider alternative options to dismissing PS Adams, Mr Aldred said the police sergeant had earned respect from both his superiors and his subordinates who praised him for his ‘professionalism, honesty, fairness, motivation and compassion’.
He said the incident had been a ‘wake up call’ for PS Adams, who, he said, vowed never to make the same mistake again.
Addressing the hearing to explain the panel’s ruling, Alice Sims said: “We believe PS Adams’ behaviour amounts to gross misconduct and we will be issuing a final written warning. This is not a case for dismissal in our view.”