29 July 2022

Prosecutors accused of ‘criminalising innocent police’ over Couzens messages

29 July 2022

A former policeman has accused prosecutors of “trying to criminalise innocent police officers” over allegedly sexist, racist and ableist “jokes” they made in a WhatsApp chat with Sarah Everard’s killer.

Former Pc Joel Borders, 45, is on trial at Westminster Magistrates’ Court along with serving Metropolitan Police constables Jonathon Cobban, 35, and William Neville, 34, charged with sending “grossly offensive” messages to the group in 2019.

All three deny charges relating to improper use of a public electronic communications network between April 5 and August 9 2019.

Their WhatsApp chat, called “Bottle and Stoppers”, comprised seven officers who had transferred from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) to the Met.

It is known that messages from the chat were found on Wayne Couzens’ phone during investigations into the murder of Ms Everard last year, though the court has not made direct reference to this due to other ongoing hearings.

Former Metropolitan Police constable Joel Borders told Westminster Magistrates’ Court he was an ‘exemplary’ officer (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

Borders, who described himself as an “exemplary” officer after having his message joking about raping a female colleague read to the court, worked for the CNC from March 30 2014, and transferred to the Met on February 11 2019.

He left the force on December 9 2020 for unrelated reasons and before he was told about Couzens or that he was being investigated for misconduct in August 2021.

In messages previously read to the court, Borders, from Preston, Lancashire, said: “I can’t wait to get on the guns so I can shoot some c*** in the face”, and suggested tasering people with Down’s Syndrome.

Speaking about a female colleague, he also said she would “lead me on then get me locked up when I rape and beat her! Sneaky bitch”.

During cross-examination by his lawyer, Nicholas Yeo, on Friday, Borders told the court that he was “well thought of on the job”, and his “joke” messages had been “blown out of proportion”.

“I was an exemplary officer,” he said. “I always turned up to work early, I always dressed smart, made sure my boots were clean.

“My image was perfect and I behaved perfectly with people. I know that’s me saying this, but I was well thought-of on the job.”

Three Metropolitan Police officers are in court over messages they exchanged on a group chat with Sarah Everard’s killer (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

Borders admitted that he was “naive” when he first joined the Met in February 2019, but handling “delicate matters” changed his sense of humour.

He said his jokes were not intended to offend the people they were about, and gave the example of a joke he made about his mother, who has dementia, after she suffered a fall and broke her hip a few months ago.

He said he made his “exhausted” 75-year-old father laugh by telling him not to visit her in hospital if he was too tired because “she won’t remember”.

“You might say that’s offensive to people with dementia, but it made my dad laugh, and all of a sudden his mood changed – his whole attitude changed,” he said.

During a later, heated exchange with prosecutor Jocelyn Ledward, Borders said: “You are trying to criminalise innocent police officers.”

Indicating his former colleagues in the dock, he said: “Those officers in there are probably going to lose their jobs, just because you take exception to certain jokes.”

Cobban, from Didcot, Oxfordshire, bowed his head and fixed his gaze at the ground as these comments were made, before taking to the witness box himself.

In messages previously heard by the court, Cobban described a hospital patient he was dealing with as an “attention-seeking, self-harming fag”, and Hounslow, a diverse area of west London, as a “Somali shithole”.

Serving Metropolitan police officer Jonathon Cobban (Kirsty O’Connor/PA) (PA Wire)

Following this second comment, he added: “There goes pussy patrol… more like FGM (female genital mutilation) patrol.”

Speaking on Friday, Cobban said the “pussy patrol” joke took inspiration from Channel 4 comedy The Inbetweeners, and his FGM comment was not related to the ethnic diversity of the area.

Cobban said that, like many emergency services workers, he had “developed a dark sense of humour” as a “coping mechanism” and described the messages as “banter between mates”.

Responding to jokes about police performing sex acts on domestic violence victims, Cobban also wrote in the group chat: “That’s alright, DV victims love it… that’s why they are repeat victims more often than not.”

The Pc described this comment as “quite obviously sarcastic” and a way of “venting frustrations after attending domestic abuse calls where callers would not co-operate with police once they arrived”.

The officer said that in these cases “more often than not the allegations are false”.

Serving Metropolitan Police Pc William Neville (Kirsty O’Connor/PA). (PA Wire)

Cobban said: “Since then, I have been to many domestics and some of them are heart-breaking. I would not find that joke funny now.”

Asked by Mr Yeo whether he thought the messages would be read by people outside the group chat, he said: “Not for one second.

“As far as I was concerned these messages were on a private, encoded WhatsApp group and they would never be read by anyone outside the group.”

Neville, of Weybridge, Surrey, watched from the dock, and is due to give evidence later on Friday.

On Thursday, Neville was accused of “acting out a rape fantasy” by prosecutor Edward Brown QC, after he described the time he “pinned a 15-year-old girl going mental on the floor” as deploying a “struggle snuggle”.

His defence lawyer Mr Yeo disputed this as an “overreach”.

Two serving Met Sergeants, Sarah Stephens and Owen Graham, who know Neville, were called as witnesses and said they were familiar with the term “struggle snuggle” as slang for a restraint technique from training sessions.

Ms Stephens, a sergeant of 20 years, said there were “absolutely” no sexual connotations to the term, and when asked whether it involved “anything funny or any kind of innuendo” she said: “No.”

She also described Neville as “one of the most professional, hard-working police officers that I have ever worked with”.

When asked by Mr Yeo whether Neville had ever shown signs of holding discriminatory views against women or any minority groups, she said: “Never. Quite the opposite.

“He has shown complete compassion and supported me when I have gone through difficult times.”

PS Graham described Neville as an officer who would “sometimes be chosen to deal with difficult calls because of his professional nature”.

Neville, who joined the CNC in July 2016 before transferring to the Met, said that he had never heard of the Communications Act and the offence he is now being prosecuted for.

Neville said: “The first time I heard about the offence was when I was being investigated for it.”

The trial continues on September 21 at City of London Magistrates’ Court.

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