Ex-police constable from Birmingham jailed for mocking death of George Floyd on WhatsApp
James Watts from Castle Bromwich was serving with West Mercia at the time of the offence
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An ex-police constable who posted racist WhatsApp memes mocking the death of George Floyd has been jailed for 20 weeks.
Married father-of-one James Watts was serving with West Mercia Police in 2020 when he shared the “grossly offensive” material in a group chat, which included former colleagues at a Warwickshire prison.
At Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram heard how the 31-year-old was charged following a police inquiry into 10 memes posted in May and June 2020.
One of the memes featured a white dog wearing Ku Klux Klan clothing, and another displayed a kneeling mat with George Floyd’s face printed on it.
Other images, which Mr Ikram said “undermined the confidence the public has in the police”, made jokes about Mr Floyd’s death featuring pictures of George of the Jungle and the children’s game Guess Who.
Watts accepted in police interviews that the messages were racist in nature. Another message, which was found after a Twitter user claimed a serving policeman had posted racist memes, mocked a line in the movie Jaws.
What happened at court?
Watts, of Clifton Road, Castle Bromwich, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to 10 counts of sending a grossly offensive or menacing message by a public communication network.
Jailing the defendant, Mr Ikram told him: “These are the most serious offences.
“You have been employed in positions of considerable responsibility.
“At every stage since you were found out, you have cooperated with the authorities and accepted your wrong.
“But the fact remains that over a period of about a month, you continued to post messages which were grossly offensive.
“I do not agree with your advocate that this was stupidity or foolishness. This goes far beyond that.”
Mr Ikram continued: “You were previously a prison officer. I have no doubt you would have received training in relation to diversity and inclusion in that role.
“At the time of these offences, you were a police officer – a person to whom the public looks up to to uphold the law – but you did the opposite.
“You undermined the confidence the public has in the police.
“Your behaviour brings the criminal justice system as a whole into disrepute.
“You are there to protect the public and enforce the law, but what you did was the complete opposite.
“The hostility that you demonstrated on the basis of race makes this offending so serious that I cannot deal with it by a community penalty or a fine.
“A message must go out and that message can only go out through an immediate sentence of imprisonment.”
Is anyone else due in court over this issue?
A co-defendant, West Mercia Police Constable Joann Jinks, 41, from Redditch, Worcestershire, is due to stand trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on August 23 charged with three counts of the same offence.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) announced in April this year that charges had been brought against Watts and Jinks under the Communications Act 2003.
What has the Independent Office for Police Conduct said about the case?
The IOPC announced in April this year that charges had been brought against Watts and Jinks under the Communications Act 2003.
After sentencing, IOPC regional director Derrick Campbell said: “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.”
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