A former West Mercia Police officer has today been sentenced to 20 weeks’ imprisonment following a hearing at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court. At an earlier hearing he had pleaded guilty to 10 counts of sending a grossly offensive message via a public communication network.

IOPC regional director, Derrick Campbell said:  

“We note the prison sentence imposed on former West Mercia Police officer James Watts today after he earlier pleaded guilty to sharing grossly offensive, racist material via WhatsApp. The sharing of such images by a serving officer, some of which mocked the death of George Floyd, is bound to have caused significant reputational damage to policing.

“The content of these messages will disturb many people both within and outside the police service.  Today’s outcome must act as a stark reminder that this behaviour, particularly from a police officer, is unacceptable. It is important officers understand it is irrelevant whether such activity takes place on or off duty, or in a private or public social media network – the conduct is likely to face serious disciplinary or criminal consequences.

“Our investigation began in June 2020 following a referral from West Mercia Police after intelligence was received by the force. At its conclusion in April 2021, we sent our investigation report to the Crown Prosecution Service which authorised the charge under S.127 of the Communications Act 2003.”

From West Mercia Police:

Today (Tuesday 14 June) a former West Mercia Police officer has been sentenced to 20 weeks in prison after entering a guilty plea to sending grossly offensive messages in a WhatsApp group chat.

At an earlier hearing James Watts, 32, of Castle Bromwich in Birmingham pleaded guilty to 10 counts of the offence. He admitted to sending racially discriminatory messages on his personal phone, including images, in May and June of 2020. Four “memes” sent by Watts referred to George Floyd and the protests that were taking place in the States at the time.

After the messages came to light in June 2020 the force referred the case to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC).

At the time of the offences he was a probationary police constable with the force, based in Redditch.

Watts resigned from the force whilst the investigation was on going. An Accelerated Misconduct Hearing was held where it was found that he would have been dismissed, had he not already resigned. His name has also been added to the College of Policing’s barred list, banning him from any policing role across the country for life.

Speaking after today’s hearing Deputy Chief Constable Julian Moss said: “I welcome the sentencing today and the custodial sentence, which shows the gravity of the offence. 

“This case shows we are committed to rooting out any racist behaviour within the force, whether it takes place on or off duty. There is absolutely no place for these attitudes or this behaviour within West Mercia Police.

“James Watts let down the communities he served and his colleagues by his grossly offensive behaviour. The force will not tolerate it, our officers will not tolerate it, I will not tolerate it.”