Officers who sent alleged jokes about rape, domestic violence, people with disabilities, Muslims and racial minorities to each other were only making “humorous jokes”, a court heard.
Three current and former Metropolitan Police officers gave evidence in their trial over messages in a WhatsApp group featuring Wayne Couzens, after a judge denied a defense request to dismiss the charges.
Jonathan Cobban, 35, William Neville, 34, and Joel Borders, 45, admit to writing the posts but deny they constitute a criminal offense by being “grossly offensive”.
PC Cobban told Westminster Magistrates’ Court: ‘These messages were sent to a private, secure WhatsApp group and I did not expect them to be readable or read by anyone outside of that group.’
The accused said that as former officers who guarded sensitive sites for the Nuclear Civil Gendarmerie, the group had a “dark sense of humour”.
“I meant they were to be taken as humorous jokes and nothing more,” he added.
PC Cobban suggested the case was misreported by the media and the public would not be offended if they “knew what” the posts meant.
“I think the way we’re portrayed for some dark humor posts is awful,” he added.
Mr Borders, who left the Metropolitan Police and is now a close protection officer, said the matter had “spinned out of control”.
Speaking to a prosecutor, he added: “This is absolutely ridiculous. You are trying to criminalize innocent police officers. You have two very good policemen there who will probably lose their jobs because of this, just because you object to certain jokes.
“People are offended by everything. You need to stop this grossly offensive thing because it is absolutely ridiculous.
Mr Borders was asked about a message in which he wrote about a female police officer named: “She is going to use me as an example. Drive me and lock me up when I rape and beat her! Sneaky bitch.
He replied, “I was saying she was the kind of person who would make a false allegation. The rape and beating should have been in quotes.
“That’s an exaggerated way of saying he can’t be trusted; he’s the kind of person who is really sneaky and sneaky.
On another occasion, Mr Borders wrote that he was looking forward to ‘shooting b***s in the face’ with a police gun.
The officer told the court the message was “clearly a joke”, adding: “It’s quite obvious. I don’t know why it’s even here. It’s ridiculous.”
Mr Borders said he was ‘really embarrassed’ about disturbing the public, adding: ‘I will help people cross the road; I will open doors for people because that’s the kind of person I am.
He added, “When you tell a joke, you’re not laughing at the subject of the joke, you’re laughing at the joke.”
Conversations appearing to be joking about police committing sex acts on victims of domestic violence were shown in court, with PC Cobban writing: ‘It’s ok DV victims love it… that’s why they’re most often repeat victims.”
Asked about the message in court, the officer said he was “obviously sarcastic”.
At another point, PC Cobban and PC Neville appeared to joke about the prospect of Muslims being left to die in a terror attack, while PC Cobban described a racially diverse area of London as a “shit hole” and PC Neville said that it “felt like a stain on a domino”.
Both officers denied their posts were racist and said they valued the capital’s diversity.
In August 2019, PC Cobban described an incident in which he had to deal with a person who needed hospital treatment after self-harming as an “attention-seeking f*g and self-harm”.
He denied targeting the gay community with the comment and said his use of the insult was “untargeted derogatory appeal”.
PC Cobban and PC Neville have also spoken of ‘wrestling hugs’ after PC Neville described pinning a 15-year-old girl to the ground during an incident.
Prosecutors argued that the exchange suggested legal duress could be used “as an excuse or cover for non-consensual physical or sexual contact with a detained person.”
But the defendants and two police witnesses said ‘fighting hugs’ was police slang for a form of legal restraint equated with a bear hug and had no sexual connotation.
PC Neville admitted to using the phrase when recounting an incident involving a 15-year-old girl, but said her response was proportionate and appropriate as she assaulted a police officer and was “violent and angry”.
“She was extremely thin and her wrists were very thin, so I had to hug her to put my arms at her sides,” he told the court.
PC Neville said remarks appearing to suggest that all Muslims were terrorists were “satire” and “take away the malice from people who would make that connection”.
He added: “It’s shock humour, polemics, satire; it’s a joke, it’s black humor.
The court heard that the 2019 threads included posts about rape, domestic violence and violence against women.
They were discovered in a WhatsApp group called “Bottle and Stoppers/Atkin’s Puppets” after Couzens was arrested for the kidnapping, rape and murder of Sarah Everard in March 2021.
PC Cobban said the group contained seven officers who moved from the Civilian Nuclear Gendarmerie to the Metropolitan Police around the same time, and was “originally set up to talk about our transfer process”.
Prosecutor Edward Brown QC previously told the court: “Well-meaning members of the public would be gravely offended not only by the comments themselves, but to know that it was serving officers who discussed, among other serving officers, of their colleagues and the citizens they are expected to serve in the terms used in these messages, often in an enthusiastic and encouraging manner, without any dissent.
PC Cobban and Mr. Borders are charged with five counts of sending grossly offensive messages, while PC Neville is charged with two counts of the same offence.
PC Cobban and PC Neville remain with the Metropolitan Police, while Mr Borders has since left the force.
The trial has been adjourned until September 21, when closing submissions will be made to the City of London Magistrates’ Court.