from Jean Calder

The Crown Prosecution Service has announced that Metropolitan police officers arrested following allegations they exchanged “extreme” pornography will face no criminal charges. The three constables were arrested on 19th December 2013 on suspicion of being involved in the possession and distribution of obscene images via mobile phones, contrary to the Obscene Publications Act 1959 and the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008. A fourth officer was also interviewed, but not arrested.

The images were described as “of an extreme sexual nature” not involving children. This raises the possibility that the images in question involved rape, sexual or other assault, torture or killing of adults. Certainly, the reference to the 2008 Act, which criminalised such images, would tend to suggest this.

The officers are from the Diplomatic Protection Group (DPG), which guards sensitive sites such as foreign embassies and controls access to New Scotland Yard and Downing Street. Many of its 700 officers are armed. The information came to light following investigation of the incident in which MP Andrew Mitchell was accused of calling Downing Street police officers “plebs”.

A DPG police officer has recently been sentenced to 12 months in prison for lying about that incident. After the trial, Deborah Glass of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), said: “The patchwork of evidence from emails, text messages and telephone calls does not suggest an organised conspiracy to bring down a Cabinet Minister. But there was clearly collusion between certain officers to, as they saw it, blow the whistle on bad behaviour toward one of their own, which ultimately had the same effect.”

Despite this recent evidence of lies and collusion within the DPG and of a closed self-protective culture, the IPCC decided that the images in question could safely be investigated locally by professional standards officers – an extraordinary decision given the national importance of the DPG, the sensitivity of some of the sites it guards and the fact that one of the officers who had been questioned about the pornography was already on restricted duties due to the ‘plebgate’ investigation.

Though they will not face criminal charges, the officers remain subject to investigation into allegations of misconduct. However, according to the Times, the focus of that investigation will be whether the alleged conduct took place while the officers were on or off duty. This will provide little comfort to the public.

We have been reassured the images did not involve children. However, we know nothing about the nature of the adult images, in particular whether they involved images of sexual violence and, as is so often the case, the degradation of women – and occasionally gay men. The key issue is not where and when pornography was exchanged, but whether serving police officers possessed and exchanged for pleasure or entertainment, adult images that may possibly depict rape, sexual abuse and degradation, torture or worse. If they did, these men are surely not fit to act as police officers.

We need to be able to trust police to investigate incidents of rape and sexual and domestic violence with sympathy, discretion and rigour. Yet we know there remain serious concerns about widespread ‘no-criming’ of rape reports in many forces and the discriminatory attitudes of some officers to victims of sexual and domestic crimes, including homicide.

If we are to have a police service fit for the 21st century, we must be prepared to confront sexism within it – and to investigate and, if necessary, dismiss those who are unfit to serve.

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