Metropolitan police officers accused of sharing “grossly offensive” messages in a WhatsApp group that included Wayne Couzens joked about beating and sexually assaulting women, raping a colleague and Tasering children, a court has heard.
PC Jonathon Cobban, 35, PC William Neville, 33, and Joel Borders, 45, a former officer, listened from the dock as comments they allegedly made were read out by the prosecution at Westminster magistrates court.
The three are charged with sharing racist and misogynistic messages between 5 April and 9 August 2019 in a WhatsApp group that included them and other officers. The posts were discovered in the group after Couzens was arrested for kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard in March 2021.
The messages included one in which Neville told others in the group of a recent shift when he had pinned down a 15-year-old girl, referring to it as a “struggle snuggle”, a remark that prosecutors allege to be the acting out of a rape fantasy.
Cobban went on during the same exchange in August 2019 to say that such an approach was “always useful” and that these were “good skills” for a police officer, the court heard.
Other comments included Cobban and Borders implying that victims of domestic abuse encouraged the physical and psychological torment to which they were subjected, said Edward Brown QC, prosecuting.
“DV victims love it. That’s why they’re repeat victims more often than not,” Cobban allegedly wrote in a message in June 2019.
Brown told the court in his opening statement that police officers should represent a safe haven for victims of domestic abuse. Of the comments, he said: “Coming from the mouth of a police officer whose duty is to serve and protect such vulnerable members of society, and whose role ought to be not only to ignore such thinking but actively to work against it, is grossly offensive.”
In another message, Borders is accused of anticipating getting access to police firearms and being able to shoot someone in the face, then asking Cobban about what it would be like to use a Taser on someone with Down’s syndrome.
Brown said members of the public would look to a police officer for understanding and support, not abuse. “This must be seen in the context of and in combination with a need to uphold public confidence in the police,” he said.
Cobban, of Didcot, Oxfordshire, is charged with five counts of sending a grossly offensive, indecent, obscene or menacing message on a public electronic communications network. Neville, of Weybridge, Surrey, is charged with two counts of the same offence, and Borders, of Preston, Lancashire, faces five counts of the same charge. They deny the charges against them.
The defendants were part of a “close-knit group” of officers sharing messages on WhatsApp, and there was no evidence that they or any members of the group “called out” or challenged offensive comments, Brown said. The group totalled seven people, five of whom were undertaking Met training, including the three defendants.
The defendants had previous experience as officers in the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC), and each was a serving student and then probationary police officer in the Met at the time the messages were sent. During 2017, when Cobban was at the CNC, he had volunteered to take on the additional responsibility of being the “race and diversity custodian” for the unit.
“Each of the defendants was a serving police officer, training to and employed to protect and support the citizens of a very diverse city,” Brown told the court, adding that each of the messages relating to their charges was plainly grossly offensive by any objective standard.
The WhatsApp group included one participant, named as “Kate”, who is currently a police constable with the Met and who undertook training at the same time as the defendants, the court heard.
In a message in April 2019 referring to “Kate”, Borders wrote: “She will use me as an example. Lead me on then get me locked up when I rape and beat her! Sneaky bitch.”
Other messages included disparaging references to the areas of London such as Hounslow, to which Cobban referred disparagingly, noting the local Somali community and sounds of the Muslim call to prayer. Borders joined in, adding that a similarly diverse area, Feltham, was “worse”.
The court heard that in interviews Cobban said his comment about domestic violence victims were “a joke, in very bad taste”. He said a reference to being in Hounslow centre as like “walking along a Dulux colour code” was intended to refer to “the vibrancy of the area”.
Borders said his comment about raping and beating “Kate” was meant to be “dark humour” but he did not believe that violence against women or rape was a joke.
The trial continues.