The Metropolitan Police failed to investigate allegations that a WhatsApp group used by staff had become “sexualised and derogatory towards women”, a former officer has claimed.
Paige Kimberley served with the force for 32 years and returned to a role in digital policing in 2018, five years after she retired.
She told Sky News that a WhatsApp group had been established so members of the team – including a serving police officer – could communicate with each other and troubleshoot problems.
Ms Kimberley was in that role for 10 months and later left for family reasons, only to be asked to return again in October 2019.
The former detective superintendent said she took that opportunity to raise concerns about the WhatsApp group to her line manager – including the fact that graphic images were being circulated between its members.
Ms Kimberley claims she received a text message a day later, informing her that the position was no longer available.
As a result of this, she pursued a complaint over how she was treated – and while the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards said the content was distasteful, Ms Kimberley alleges that no action was taken.
“It was never recorded as an allegation, it was never investigated – to my knowledge, nobody’s phones were ever looked at. I know there’s lots and lots of videos on there which even I’ve not looked at,” she said.
Ms Kimberley also said she didn’t know where the explicit images had come from – and the police environment meant some of the graphic content may have not been in the public domain.
She raised one particular instance where she felt that a woman was being victimised every time a photo was being posted, and that she believes that the person in the picture should be tracked down and notified about what has happened.
The former officer also expressed dismay that no one else in the group “had the common sense” to say these messages were inappropriate – and instead, some members joined in.
She added: “If you had five or six police officers go into a shop and one of them said ‘let’s start doing a bit of thieving’, you’d like to think the other four or five would say this is not a good idea – this is not what we do.
“So why is it when these images are being circulated on a WhatsApp group that everybody else is joining in? Nobody has got the common sense to say this is not appropriate, stop.”
Ms Kimberley claimed that there was a “flourishing sexist environment” within digital policing, and said she found it disturbing that the Met had not listened to her complaint.
She told Sky News that she had been willing to give her phone over, but had faced a “veiled threat” that her whole device would be scrutinised, not just the WhatsApp group in question.
A tribunal has now ruled in her favour, and she is due to receive compensation.
She added: “The organisation has fought me on every single level – to discredit me, to make me out as embellishing a problem – everything they could have done.
“I don’t know how much money they’ve spent fighting this case. This money doesn’t belong in fighting somebody that legitimately raises a complaint – this money belongs to frontline policing.”
Ms Kimberley says that she would now like to see the WhatsApp group in question be subject to a proper investigation – and for an amnesty to be introduced around non-disclosure agreements so others who have made complaints are not silenced.
Last week, it emerged that police officers had allegedly shared offensive messages with Wayne Couzens in a different WhatsApp group in the months before he killed Sarah Everard.
Reports suggest the material was misogynistic, racist and homophobic – and the Independent Office for Police Conduct is now investigating a number of serving officers.
Ms Kimberley added: “This has been a two-year battle against an organisation that I have been proud to be a part of. There is a saying – ‘It’s difficult to challenge people but it’s much harder to challenge your friends’.
“I’m one of a number of ex-senior officers that are standing up and saying something’s going wrong with the culture. I think the sewer of the internet has leaked into policing and is not being addressed. The management are a little bit behind the curve in addressing this.”
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: “We are currently assessing the details of the tribunal’s finding. We cannot comment further at this time.”
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