Judge throws out attempt to dismiss charges against Met Police officers over Wayne Couzens WhatsApp group

Sign up to our free fortnightly newsletter from The Independent’s Race Correspondent Nadine White Sign up to our free fortnightly newsletter The Race Report Please enter a valid email address Please enter a valid email address SIGN UP I would like to be emailed about offers, events and updates from The Independent. Read our privacy notice Thanks for signing up to the

The Race Report email {{ #verifyErrors }}{{ message }}{{ /verifyErrors }}{{ ^verifyErrors }}Something went wrong. Please try again later{{ /verifyErrors }}

A judge has thrown out an attempt to dismiss all charges against three Metropolitan Police officers accused of sending “grossly offensive” WhatsApp messages in a group containing Wayne Couzens.

Westminster Magistrates’ Court heard that Jonathon Cobban, 35, William Neville, 34, and Joel Borders, 45, exchanged racist, misogynist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobia and ableist posts.

The chats, from 2019, included posts discussing rape, domestic abuse and violence against women, as well as Muslims, ethnic minorities and people with Down’s Syndrome.

They were discovered in a WhatsApp group called “Bottle and Stoppers/Atkin’s Puppets” after Couzens was arrested for kidnapping, raping and murdering Sarah Everard in March 2021.

A defence barrister argued that the messages did not meet the legal definition of “grossly offensive”, because they were sent in a private chat group where “no one was offended and they were not targeted at anyone”.

Nicholas Yeo told the court: “The fact that none of those individuals [in the WhatsApp group] took those messages seriously or made a complaint about them is a highly relevant factor, and we say determinative.”

District Judge Sarah Turnock said she had considered a “defence application to dismiss” the prosecution on the basis there was “no case to answer”.

Giving her ruling on Friday morning, she said: “Based on evidence and content and context of the messages, I do not accept these submissions.

“I am satisfied that each of the messages are capable of being grossly offensive within the meaning of the 2003 Communications Act.”

District Judge Turnock said that the fact the WhatsApp group was private and no one in it voiced any complaint “does not render them incapable” of breaching the law.

She told the court that the legal test was whether they were “grossly offensive” to the people they relate to – those from a “black and ethnic minority background, people living in certain areas of London, women, children, disabled and gay people” – rather than those who receive them.

Mr Yeo argued that it was “plain” that the messages were not intended to be taken seriously, and contested a suggestion by the prosecution that references to a “struggle snuggle” could refer to sexual contact.

Court artist sketch by Elizabeth Cook of (left to right) serving Metropolitan police officers Pc William Neville, and Jonathon Cobban, along with former police officer Joel Borders appearing in the dock at Westminster Magistrates’ Court, in London, charged with sharing “grossly offensive” WhatsApp messages with Sarah Everard murderer Wayne Couzens. (PA)

PC Cobban and PC Neville joked about the term after PC Neville described pinning a 15-year-old girl to the floor during a police incident.

Prosecutor Edward Brown QC said the post implied that PC Neville “enjoyed the need, whilst on duty, physically to go to restrain a very vulnerable and disturbed 15-year-old girl because he got pleasure from, or at least drew upon his experience of a ‘struggle snuggle’”.

He argued that the exchange suggested that lawful restraint could be used “as an excuse or cover for non-consensual physical or sexual contact with a detained person”.

But Mr Yeo contested the meaning of “struggle snuggle” and told the court that it was a “term used in officer training in relation to a bear hug technique”.

District Judge Turnock ruled that the prosecution and defence must contest the issue with further evidence, and did not accept that the “only ordinary meeting was referring to the use of some sort of police skill in the context of lawfully detaining an individual”.

Mr Brown said the group contained “a close-knit group of” seven police officers who had transferred from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary to the Metropolitan Police.

“There is no evidence that any of the defendants, or the other members of the group, ‘called out’ or challenged any of their co-defendants on receipt of what are said by the prosecution to be the offensive messages,” he added.

“Each defendant actively participated and chose to remain in the group.”

The trial continues, with all three defendants expected to give evidence on Friday.